SU People


John Dowling


James Howison |
Information Connections

James Howison is a curious citizen of the world with an enthusiasm for people, a passion for social issues, and a talent for information technology. He had plans to pursue a Ph.D. degree when he met SU professor Milton Mueller while working in Los Angeles. “Meeting him put Syracuse on the map for me,” says Howison, a School of Information Studies doctoral student who grew up in Sydney, Australia. “I gradually learned more about the school and found out it is top notch.” At SU, Howison discovered an environment that freed him to explore his diverse interests in the field of information technology. He remembers one particularly intriguing phrase from a brochure about the school. “It said, ‘Our faculty and students have a tolerance for ambiguity,’” says Howison, who received the school’s Jeffrey Katzer Memorial Fellowship after his first year as a doctoral student. “That appealed to me because it spoke of open minds and a willingness to learn from each other’s approaches.”

Howison earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Sydney, where he studied the political economy of the Internet. “It was something I saw as very exciting and as potentially empowering,” says Howison, who skis and sails competitively. After graduating, he traveled to Chiangmai, Thailand, where he worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provided education services to Burmese refugees. “Despite knowing plenty about the Internet in Australia in 1998, I ran away to Thailand, where, instead of doing something sensible—like starting a company or doing all the things others constantly tell me I should—I worked in a setting as far as you can get from all things digital,” Howison says.

While in Thailand, he also taught English at Chiangmai University—an experience that reignited his interest in information technology and its role in economic development and empowering people. “My students did things on the computer that people at home weren’t doing—chatting and making friends internationally, and starting small businesses,” he says. “And I thought, you know, there really is something here that lets people do things they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.” Howison left Thailand for an internship with the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council in California, an NGO that works with Asian Pacific governments to help them adjust to the new information environment of the Internet. He then returned to Sydney to work at a global consultancy business, specializing in political and security risks, crisis management, and information technology security, while working toward a master of information science degree at the University of New South Wales, from which he transferred to come to Syracuse.

Now in his third year at Syracuse, Howison hopes to complete his doctoral studies in 2006. His research has focused on a wireless grid project with Professor Lee McKnight and on a study of free and open source software with Professor Kevin Crowston, with whom he intends to pursue his thesis. “Free and open source software makes the source code freely available, unlike the software made by companies and sold for profit,” Howison says. “It is typically developed by groups that have a large number of volunteers in them.” These developers cooperate online to build software that solves specific problems. “This activity is really interesting, because it all happens online between people who have never met,” he says. “It lets people express their creativity in ways that structured work doesn’t always allow, because you choose the bits you want to work on—the bits that interest you, and that you are good at.”

Inspired by School of Information Studies faculty, Howison intends to pursue a career as a research professor. “I also maintain a keen interest in developing countries,” he says. “I hope at some point I’ll have the chance to teach and work in one. Whatever I do, I will always be engaged in the broader social world.”

John Dowling

Luvenia Cowart |
Community Health Activist

For Luvenia Cowart G’78, G’80, G’83 the message of healthy lifestyles isn’t delivered through a classroom lecture. It’s brought to the people: where they live, where they gather, where they worship. Cowart, assistant dean of student affairs and special projects in the College of Human Services and Health Professions (HSHP), is tackling the issues of prostate cancer and obesity as they affect the African American community by meeting her constituency in their neighborhoods. Her commitment is expressed in the vibrant and articulate way she speaks of her mission to address the health needs of minorities. “Our focus in working with the community has to do with our need to empower people of color in their environment,” Cowart says. “And, it is developing programs in such a way that they are culturally sensitive and sustainable.”

Cowart began her career in nursing, but discovered she wanted to pursue a broader range of disciplines in her field. After receiving a B.S. in nursing education from Wayne State University in Detroit, she earned an M.S.N. in nursing education from SU’s College of Nursing, an M.S. in rehabilitation and vocational counseling, and an Ed.D. in adult education/administration from SU’s School of Education. Her career path led her to a variety of health care positions. In 1994, Cowart was appointed assistant dean in SU’s former College of Nursing. She was named to her current post when HSHP was founded in 2001.

Cowart says her passion is to help eliminate health disparities among minority populations under the mandate of Healthy People 2010, a nationwide government initiative to develop programs for improving health. Building on healthy initiatives, Cowart and former oncology nurse Betty Brown began a public awareness campaign six years ago addressing prostate cancer among African American men. The disease strikes that population at nearly twice the rate as that of white American men. “Once we recognized the problem, we had to respond,” Cowart says. The two colleagues started the Prostate Cancer Education Council of Central New York, a task force made up of community members and health professionals. Through the council, a program was developed to educate men in a familiar setting—the local barbershop. Armed with videotapes and brochures, Cowart and Brown went into the shops and chatted with customers about getting screened for prostate cancer.

Cowart’s involvement in the community continues with the Genesis Health Project, a program aimed at preventing and treating obesity through targeted campaigns within African American church communities. The three-year plan involves meeting with families in six Syracuse churches. “We realized we had to take the program to the community,” Cowart says. The project’s first phase, which was launched in 2004, required gathering information from more than 150 families. An intervention program for healthier living is being implemented in the second and third years. The project has received support from local companies and is seeking more funding for further development. The program also involves nursing and nutrition students who are interacting with the community, an important part of their education, Cowart says. “As our society changes, the focus for our students is how to care for a diverse population,” says Cowart, who was named a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow in 2003.

Cowart also assists students with the publication Healthy You @ SU, an award-winning, student-produced magazine about wellness. Cowart hopes students take the information they learn to their workplaces and communities. “Forging collaborative health initiatives benefits the whole community,” Cowart says. “That is the promise of all these projects.”


John Dowlingsimpkins

Peter Simpkins |
Engineering Artistry

University Professor Peter Simpkins of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science applies a lesson learned years ago in an undergraduate art course to the problems he faces as a distinguished researcher. “When you’re painting, you need to study your subject very carefully,” he says. “It’s not just a blue sky. You have to note the shades and tonal differences.” Only by identifying the slightest nuances in color, Simpkins notes, can the artist replicate the true image. Likewise, when presented with what seems like an insurmountable problem, Simpkins tries to synthesize it into a smaller, more specific question. The idea is to find an answer that will contribute toward a better understanding of the larger issue. “I try to extract some piece of physics that will give me insight, so that I don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he says.

Simpkins began his engineering career as an apprentice with Handley Page Aircraft Co. in England and advanced his understanding of the field as a scholar at the von Karman Institute in Belgium and as a NATO Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. After earning a Ph.D. degree in aeronautics at Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, the British-born engineer took a job with AVCO Corporation in Boston, where he worked on problems associated with ballistic missiles re-entering the atmosphere. He continued that research at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, investigating what happens if an interceptor is launched during a thunderstorm. “So I have this problem of a large missile traveling at supersonic speed through a rain cloud,” he says. “What can I extract to figure this out? A droplet. How does a droplet behave when it’s impacted by a shockwave?” His answers can be found in classified documents that he jokes are “buried forever” in the U.S. Air Force’s archives.

After moving to the Bell Labs’ Murray Hill research organization, Simpkins became involved with materials processing problems, such as crystal growth and the manufacturing of optical fibers. Among his career achievements are numerous patents for his work in fiber optics, for which he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering in 1999. A fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, he has also worked on several NASA review boards, and reviewed countless journal articles. Some of his current research focuses on improving the coating of fiber optic glass by eliminating air bubbles that tend to get trapped between the polymer coating and the thin glass strand during production. “The air weakens the glass and degrades the transmitted signal,” he says. When done correctly, coated silica fiber is more than 10 times stronger than steel, yet pliable enough to wrap around a finger, making it an ideal transmitter.

Although he has remained active in research since coming to SU in 2002, Simpkins now invests more time as a teacher and advisor to graduate students. As an avid lover of history, he says, “one of the things I try to give my students is a sense of the evolution or continuity of this field. Mathematics is really the shorthand for understanding the physics of the world about you. I point out to students the many interesting problems around them if they just make themselves aware and inquisitive. They must begin to ask their own questions. Perhaps they might all benefit from a class in the art department.”

Simpkins’s varied interests enrich his students’ classroom experience as well as his own life. Although he no longer paints, he enjoys many other activities, including reading histories and biographies; fishing in Canada with his wife, Marion; wine tasting; visiting with his three daughters and their children; and—until a recent knee injury—playing tennis. Whether he is watching his 14-year-old grandson reel in a 17-inch smallmouth bass, or witnessing one of his graduate students find a new way to solve a physics problem, Simpkins gets the greatest satisfaction from creating new knowledge or broadening his experience. “I enjoy seeing younger people reach the point where they suddenly recognize that they’ve gained some understanding—that they can do it on their own,” he says. “It’s really a matter of confidence-building. At some stage all of the graduates will learn that none of us is infallible.”

John Dowling

Yomaris Nuñez |
Global Service 

Yomaris Nuñez ’06 had her first lesson in international affairs at age 6, when her family emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States. She is about to have a few more. In 2004, Nuñez was named a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. “When I learned I was chosen, I was ecstatic,” says Nuñez, a dean’s list student majoring in international relations and Spanish in the College of Arts and Sciences. “There were so many accomplished people applying, some of them third-generation foreign service.” One of just 20 students selected in a national competition of college sophomores, she enjoys the fellowship’s enviable package of benefits: coverage of all remaining undergraduate expenses; coverage of all expenses at a foundation-approved master’s program; and, following that, a guaranteed four-year appointment with the U.S. Foreign Service at one or more of its many locations around the world.

After hearing about the Pickering Fellowship as a freshman, Nuñez consulted her international relations professor, former ambassador Goodwin Cooke, at the Maxwell School. Cooke, a friend and colleague of Thomas R. Pickering, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, knew the program well and urged her to apply. Among the obvious assets she brought to the competition were fluency in English and Spanish, as well as a growing mastery of French. “But it takes something more than languages to win a Pickering,” Cooke says. “Yomaris is a quiet-spoken person, very pleasant and engaging. She is also highly motivated. She gets things done.”

A student leader, Nuñez serves as mentor and advisor to other students of color and is historian and community service chair of La LUCHA (Latino Undergraduates Creating History in America). Her other campus activities include organizing events to support HIV/AIDS awareness, volunteering at a downtown soup kitchen, and raising money to fight cancer. In 2003, she helped plan “Hispañola,” a campus event held in collaboration with the Haitian Student Association focusing on relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the two nations that share the Caribbean island. “She’s community-minded, an involved citizen, and that is just what they’re looking for,” Cooke says. As he suspected, the judges responded positively to Nuñez’s application essays, choosing her as one of 40 finalists. She was flown to Washington, D.C., for a three-day round of interviews and a writing examination administered at a State Department training facility. The good news soon followed.

At a time when many college juniors are becoming anxious about the unknowns of the future, Nuñez is thinking about which of the special summer institutes for Pickering Fellows she would like to attend after she returns from her spring semester abroad in Strasbourg. “Of the career tracks available in the foreign service, I’m most interested in the consular,” she says. “You don’t rub noses with big shots very much, but you do help everyday people, both Americans abroad and the people of the country you serve in.” She would like to be posted in Latin America, but seems equally excited by the prospect of being assigned somewhere unexpected. “I want the foreign service to take me everywhere,” she says.

John Dowling

Tim Neal |
Aiding Student-Athletes

Ask college administrators if they have a “wish list” and most will rattle off a few dozen items. Not so for Tim Neal G’81, SU’s head athletic trainer. “We are provided with everything we could possibly need for the health and safety of our student-athletes,” he says. “I believe that with 17 certified trainers on hand, we have more than any university in America. Couple that with our outstanding physicians, led by our team physician, Dr. [Irving] Raphael, and our student-athletes are receiving excellent medical coverage.” When Neal submitted a proposal to athletic director Jake Crouthamel to purchase automated external defibrillators, the new equipment arrived within weeks. The timing couldn’t have been better. Neal used the equipment to save the life of a football official who had a heart attack during the Syracuse-East Carolina game in the Carrier Dome in 2001.

Originally from Coshocton, Ohio, Neal has been a mainstay of Orange athletic training rooms for more than 25 years, and head trainer since 2000. He aspired to a military career until he learned a heart condition made that impossible. “I was still attracted to the idea of joining an organization and contributing to it—and that’s what being an athletic trainer is all about,” he says. Neal took his first training course at age 16 and worked as a student trainer in high school. After completing his undergraduate work in health education at Ohio University, he came to Syracuse in 1979 to pursue a master’s degree and worked in the training room as a graduate assistant. He completed an M.S. degree in 1981 and has been on the full-time staff ever since.

What exactly do athletic trainers do? “We take care of the physical needs of student-athletes, providing assessment, care, and rehabilitation programs,” Neal says. “We’re sometimes confused with strength coaches, who help athletes become stronger or quicker, or reach other physical goals. But our job is different. As athletic trainers, we care for student-athletes who are not performing due to injury, illness, or other medical conditions, and help to restore them to the levels they desire. We watch their nutrition and make sure that rehabilitation is given its proper chance. Our goal is to treat each student who comes through the door as a son or daughter.” Neal’s son Brooks ’05, a senior in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, is a midfielder for the lacrosse team; his daughter Emily ’08 is completing her first year in the College of Arts and Sciences.

An honored member of his profession, Neal serves as the National Athletic Trainers Association’s (NATA) liaison to the NCAA football rules committee. He has contributed much to Syracuse’s national reputation for valuing the well-being of student-athletes. His colleagues selected him to help rewrite guidelines for double-session practices and to serve on an NCAA-NATA task force studying new approaches to curbing the practice of spearing (ramming with the helmet) in college football. An effective writer, he shares his expertise and experience in articles for such magazines as Training and Conditioning and Athletic Management. He takes great satisfaction in mentoring younger members of the profession as well as in caring for SU’s student-athletes. “I try to create an environment and an attitude to help each of them become successful: every sport, every student,” he says.

John Dowling


Lisa Dolak |
Developing Interests

Lisa Dolak’s maze-like career path has taught her to never say never. As an organic chemist who synthesized compounds in a lab, she imagined herself advancing in the pharmaceutical world. Soon, however, an interest in business and politics led her to law school, where her studies focused almost exclusively on business and corporate law. After graduation, a mandatory rotation with the litigation department in her firm opened up a door and out flew her aspirations to be a corporate lawyer. “I fell in love with fast-paced, team-oriented intellectual property litigation,” says Dolak G’88, an alumna and professor in the College of Law. “I tend to follow my interests, and my career reflects that. What has helped me along is structuring my education, career, and life to maximize the number of doors that will remain open. That way you can take advantage of opportunities as they come to you.”

In 1995, opportunity called again. The College of Law was looking for a full-time professor to teach patent law, and offered the job to Dolak. “What I like best about this job is that I teach what I love and can share my enthusiasm with a new group of students every year,” she says. Dolak’s course offerings include federal civil procedure, Internet law, and patent law. “Students tend to think of procedure as boring, but I show them how strategic planning and anticipating responses from opponents can win cases,” she says. “Procedure can be very complex and allows for high-level analysis.”

Her role as a professor provides Dolak with the time and resources to pursue research projects that she wouldn’t be able to consider as a full-time attorney. For example, she has done extensive thinking, writing, and speaking on the intersection of patent law and legal ethics. Because of technology’s rapid development and the creation of a federal appellate court—the Federal Circuit—that decides all patent appeals, the field of patent law has exploded in the past 20 years. New ethical issues have arisen, such as whether a patent attorney can represent more than one client in the same area of technology. At a recent conference in Washington, D.C., Dolak spoke about the ethical challenges facing patent and other intellectual property lawyers. “They are so desperate for guidance with respect to who they can represent and how to handle situations if a conflict of interest arises,” she says. “This has unintentionally become a niche for me. My research in this area focuses on finding solutions. Should there be specialized ethics rules for patent attorneys, and if so, what should they be?”

Participation at an earlier conference opened another door on Dolak’s career path. Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel, speaking at the same conference, invited Dolak to spend a year clerking for him. “What a great ‘sabbatical,’” Dolak says. “I was able to immerse myself in patent issues at a time when the court was dealing with matters that affect both law and technology development.”

Dolak is grateful her career path has led her back to the Hill, where she lives as well as works. Amid research, teaching, and raising two teenage daughters, she has little time for play. She enjoys walking to work each morning, running, and skiing. When she feels pulled in too many directions, she takes a moment to reflect. “As a parent or a professor or a person, I feel satisfied when I’ve done the best job I can do,” she says. “When I know that, then I follow my internal voice, rather than seek outside accolades.”

Her career in patent law taught her another important life lesson. “I’m constantly working with inventors and creative people who are coming up with things, which, at one time, didn’t seem possible,” she says. “In my field, you learn to never say never. You lose your cynicism about what is possible, and I think that translates into my life outside of work as well. It makes me more open-minded about life’s challenges.”

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