Aug. 20, 2012

It's Been an Athens Kind of Summer at Geneseo


Left to right, SUNY Geneseo physics research assistants Danae Polsin, a senior, and  Angela Simone and Mollie Bienstock, both sophomores, count the decay rate of a radioactive carbon-1 sample using the Ohio University accelerator in Athens, Ohio. Other students with the research group were seniors Meg Russ, Collin Stillman and Michael Krieger and junior Drew Ellison. All are physics majors.

GENESEO, N.Y. - Greece's capital, Athens, has coincidentally emerged as a common theme among at least three activities involving Geneseo students and faculty this summer.

• Professor of English Tom Greenfield taught a humanities course in Athens, Greece, hosted by the University of Indianapolis.

• Physics professor Stephen Padalino twice took a group of undergraduate research assistants with him to Athens, Ohio, to conduct research in the accelerator lab at Ohio University (the town and county were both named for the ancient center of learning).

• Though she wasn't in Athens, Geneseo senior Cara Eichenberger worked this summer as a production runner for NBC's TODAY Show in London during the Olympic Games, which Athens first hosted in the modern era in 1896. Relatedly, Greenfield's humanities students visited Olympia in Greece and stood in the very spot the Olympic torch had been lit a few weeks earlier en route to London.

"It's a total coincidence but interesting nonetheless," said Becky Lewis, Geneseo's assistant provost for international programs. "What better city than Athens to represent the value of learning over the centuries?"

Humanities is a required course of all Geneseo students and 19 took the opportunity in May and June to go abroad to experience the culture and environment where ancient philosophers and statesmen worked and taught.

"Humanities is a whole different course on location," said Greenfield. "We stood in front of the ruins of a house where Socrates visited and read one of the dialogues together in that area. I sometimes taught with students sitting in the Theater of Dionysius at the base of the Acropolis. Students appreciate more what these great thinkers contributed to civilization when they walk where they walked."

Also with the humanities students was Helen Thomas, program director and assistant instructor for the course.

"Our rooftop study space had a spectacular view of the Acropoolis," said Thomas. "We were there during the Greek elections this year and observed a great deal of political activity and real Greek hospitality in spite of severe economic hardship. Our students report that they had a very worthwhile experience."

In Athens, Ohio, Padalino and seven Geneseo student research assistants took two trips to Ohio University to use the university's particle accelerator to make nuclear physics measurements for research Padalino is conducting. Geneseo alumnus Paul King is a nuclear physics research scientist at the university and met with the delegation several times while they were there.

"Geneseo has one of the few particle accelerators at a liberal arts college and we use it heavily for our research, but we needed some additional capabilities for this project," said Padalino. "Our colleagues in Athens generously accommodated us by letting us use their ‘T' Type Van De Graaff accelerator, which is one of only two such "T" type Van De Graaffs in the world. Interestingly, the other one is at the University of Athens in Greece."

Padalino said the visits also gave students the opportunity to use a larger accelerator, which widened their educational experience.

At the London Olympic Games, Geneseo senior Cara Eichenberger, an economics and international relations major from Suffern, N.Y., worked 14-hour days on a multitude of tasks to support the Olympics coverage of NBC's TODAY Show. Among other things, she picked up and escorted guests to the program and helped sort out the logistics of athlete and celebrity interviews.

"I was seeking an adventure for my final summer in college and I found it," said Eichenberger. "I was so fortunate and so grateful to have had this experience. It was hectic and exhausting at times but the routine tasks were completely outweighed by the times spent talking to people like swimmers Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian and celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Giada De Laurentiis."

Geneseo students have study abroad opportunities based in 20 countries and "study away" opportunities in several locations in the United States. They also often take major field trips as part of on-campus courses, similar to the group's visit to Athens, Ohio.

"These experiences fit beautifully with our liberal arts focus at Geneseo and are examples of the rich off-campus opportunities our students have all year long," said Lewis.

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