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Swarthmore in the News July 22, 2011

Faith and Leadership (Duke University online magazine)

How leaders can nurture practical wisdom

Barry Schwartz, co-author of Practical Wisdom, discusses the way leaders and organizations can encourage their employees to do the right thing the right way.

July 19, 2011

On being a "system changer"

There are a couple key ingredients. One is you always make sure the telos -- the goal, the mission -- is central. I don't just mean that everybody reads the mission statement when they come on board; I mean that the mission is embodied in the day-to-day activities of the people who are actually going to be training newcomers and in the day-to-day ways in which people who work in the organization interact with their clients or patients.

The second is you give the people you are training -- you give the people you're bringing up -- an opportunity to try, fail and get better.

Now, if you're training a surgeon, you really don't want the person you're training to fail, so you're sort of looking over that person's shoulder with great care, because if the student fails, the patient dies. In other domains, there is a little more latitude for failure and learning from failure.

So be clear on what the mission is, embody the mission every day in everything you do, and then give enough discretion to the younger people in the organization so they can learn how to do their jobs wisely. (more)


National Public Radio -  All Things Considered

NASA: Space Station's Best Days Are Still Ahead

By Joe Palca

July 18, 2011

Imagine you own a small factory, and you learn that your main supplier is going out of business. What do you do? You put on a brave face for employees and investors, and scramble to find alternatives.

That's pretty much where managers of the International Space Station find themselves.

"Because there's so much emphasis on eulogizing the shuttle, a lot of people are getting the misimpression that we're done with the space station," says Julie Robinson, station program scientist for NASA. Robinson says NASA spent the past decade building the station so it can fulfill its role as a unique laboratory for cutting-edge research.

"Now the next decade and more is getting that research benefit, and getting the discoveries that we'll get from being in space," she says. The space shuttle program may be wrapping up, but the station is just getting going.

..."Logistics is the most constraining resource. There's absolutely no doubt about that," says Mark Uhran, head of the space station office at NASA headquarters. Nothing can match the shuttles to take stuff to and from orbit. But Uhran says Russia, Japan, the European Space Agency and private companies will be adequate to fill the shuttle's role. Uhran also believes science aboard the station is set to take off. "We've never really had a permanent continuous laboratory operation, which is now going to be available to us," he says.

But many scientists are skeptical. Richard Muller, a physicist and author of Physics for Future Presidents, says NASA has had a decade to show how valuable the space station is for science. "The science has simply not been outstanding. Nobody can talk about an important discovery that came out of the billions of dollars that was spent on this program," says Muller. He doubts the future will be any different; he says the space station was never about science.

"People built the space station because they wanted to put man in space, for the sheer adventure of it. That's the purpose of the space station," he says.

But Muller agrees one thing the space station is good for is understanding how humans function in space. That's what Corinna Lathan is interested in. She's an engineer, neuroscientist and entrepreneur who has been studying how weightlessness changes the way we perceive the world around us.

In a conference room at her company Anthrotronix in Silver Spring, Md., she offers a simple example of what she's talking about.

If you put up your finger in front of me, and I close my eyes and I point to it, I'm very good at it," she says. "In space, if I did that, I would be off, I would not be pointing at your finger," she says.

On Earth, our arm movements adjust to the tug of gravity. In space, there is virtually no gravity, so the arm just floats there, and its sense of directions gets screwed up. "If you are trying to operate a robot, and you have to estimate a distance, you have to use visual cues to guide yourself; [if] you move your head and you get a different input than you're expecting, it could lead to critical mistakes," she says.  ...

Note: Corinna Lathan  is a 1988 Swarthmore College graduate.


The Philadelphia Inquirer

Old form of singing still a communal fete

By Kimberly Haas

July 17, 2011

Raw, powerful, unbridled ... and LOUD, sacred harp singing is like the heavy metal of choral music.

"For every 10 people who walk in, nine might say, 'Oh, it's so loud,' but for the 10th, it hits them in a visceral part of their being," says Chadds Ford resident Laura Densmore, who has sung sacred harp for more than 30 years.

...Sacred harp is a style of four-part a cappella shape-note music that was widespread in colonial America, the name being a euphemism for the human voice. Many tunes are set in minor keys or use open chords that lend them a haunting quality. The 18th- and 19th-century lyrics are often equally harsh, foretelling of death and travail and, occasionally, hard-earned redemption.

A sacred harp "singing" can range from a dozen or two participants for a local event to a multiday "convention" that draws more than 200 singers from many states. The four voice parts each sit together facing the others, with individual singers taking turns leading songs in the center.

"You'll see a diverse group: young hipsters, older people who came to it through the folk-music revival of the 1970s. And outside the city, Plain People join in the local singings in Berks and Lancaster Counties," says Rachel Wells Hall, who last summer founded Old City Singers, which meets monthly in Christ Church's Neighborhood House on Second Street.

..."There isn't often an opportunity like this for intergenerational interaction," says Becky Wright, a recent Swarthmore graduate, who has been a mainstay at the college's local singing for three years.

Sacred harp groups are in many other cities, but Densmore, who founded the Brandywine Valley Sacred Harp Singers seven years ago, feels something different in the character of Philadelphia.

"When I moved to this area, I sensed a real potential," she says. "Philadelphia is a vibrant place. People here do such interesting things, especially in dance and music." ...

The Straits Times (Singapore)

Liberal Arts Education

Nipping jobs worry in the bud

June 2, 2011

SENIOR writer Sandra Davie's commentary ('Give the liberal arts a vocational slant'; Monday) brings up an issue which aspiring liberal arts students and their parents would be concerned about - whether liberal arts graduates will be able to secure good jobs.

As liberal arts graduates ourselves, we were heartened by the launch of the Yale-NUS College. This local option was not available back in 2003 when we completed our A levels at Raffles Junior College and Hwa Chong Junior College respectively and thereafter, headed to the United States for a liberal arts education.

We are twins and we graduated from Bryn Mawr College and Swarthmore College with honours degrees in French Studies (with a minor in East Asian Studies) and Anthropology (with a minor in religion) respectively.

After graduation, we received job offers from US-based multinational companies. The issue of whether our degrees were relevant to the nature of the job never came up in our interviews. Our interviewers were always more interested in the qualities nurtured through a liberal arts education - fluid intelligence, problem-solving capabilities and effective communications skills.

We subsequently chose to return to Singapore and again had no issues with securing excellent employment. We are currently working in education administration and strategic consulting.

Other liberal arts degree holders whom we know in Singapore are successful professionals in financial services, management consulting and technology, among others.

In brief, as liberal arts graduates, we have never had more difficulty than other graduates in finding a job that we wanted. Prospective employers have always been receptive to our liberal arts education and associated skill sets.

We are glad that the Yale-NUS College is already receiving early validation and support from both public and private sector employers, and sincerely hope that aspiring liberal arts students will consider this option seriously.

Angela Seah (Ms)

Angelina Seah (Ms)




Swarthmore hits Europe

July 19, 2011

The Swarthmore women's soccer team is on the road and blogging from its overseas trip this summer, which is taking them to Germany and the Netherlands. The team is writing about its journey, which will include three games. So far, the team has toured several medieval German cities and attended the FIFA Women's World Cup Final in Frankfurt. 

Follow more on Swarthmore's site. The Garnet open the season Sept. 2 and 3 at a tournament at perennial power Messiah