Students – On Wisconsin For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Wed, 09 Jan 2019 19:31:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Safety Check Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:24 +0000 "W" crest displayed on the side of the UW-Madison Field House

Jeff Miller

After a doctor affiliated with Michigan State University was convicted of sexually assaulting numerous young women under his care, including student-athletes, UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez requested a wide-ranging review of his department’s health- and safety-related policies and procedures. “We are treating this with the seriousness that it deserves, and I am determined that something of this magnitude will not happen at UW–Madison,” Alvarez told the UW Athletic Board in February.

Walter Dickey ’68, JD’71 a professor emeritus of law and special assistant to Alvarez, directed the review, which included individual interviews, group meetings, and a survey of more than 1,000 student-athletes and staff. In September, the athletics department released its report, which found no major issues but identified areas for improvement, including better mental-health services, more secure access to athletic facilities, clearer reporting mechanisms, and stronger policies to cement current safety practices.

Staff and student-athletes surveyed said they would be comfortable reporting problems to people inside and outside of their team, but some were unclear on how to report concerns — such as sexual harassment and assault — and to whom. Some of the recommendations in the review are already in the process of being implemented and others will be addressed in the weeks and months to come, Alvarez says. “The bottom line is that this review will make Wisconsin Athletics better.”

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For the Birds Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:23 +0000 Pair of hands holding notebook filled with birding notes and illustrations

Mason Muerhoff

Nomen est omen, said the ancient Romans, who liked their maxims to rhyme: one’s name is one’s destiny. And while there’s little empirical evidence about this aphorism, put Anna Pidgeon PhD’00 down on the side of support. The professor with the columbiform name has taught Birds of Southern Wisconsin for the last three years.

“I get a bit of office guff,” she says.

Birds of Southern Wisconsin is offered each spring, and most of its students are undergrads studying biology or wildlife ecology. In addition to class work, students take field trips around Dane County and southern Wisconsin on Saturdays through the semester. By the course’s end, students are expected to be able to identify 235 bird species by sight and 145 species by sound alone.

Pidgeon says students also discover how Wisconsin’s landscape is changing. From the 1850s to the 1950s, logging cleared away a lot of the state’s forests, sending arboreal birds into retreat. But in the last 60 years, the forests have been returning; forest and urban birds have returned, while grassland birds are in decline.

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Suicide Prevention Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:15 +0000 Suicide rates have increased 25 percent over the last two decades, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released the same week that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade took their own lives. As the UW’s suicide prevention coordinator, Valerie Donovan ’11, MA’12 is developing proactive policies and coordinating resources and support networks across campus.

Why are we having a national conversation about suicide prevention now? Why not years ago?

It’s a couple of different things. One is that [the] CDC report gave us some data that shows this is a concerning trend … [and] that we don’t know as much as we should and we need to do better. Secondly, I think [with] recent celebrity suicides, [combined] with social media and 24-hour news cycles, there’s just been a lot [more] attention and discussion. The third element that is actually important and powerful is that people are becoming more and more comfortable talking about mental health … and I see this reflected on our campus, where we do have some data about decreases in stigma.

If we’re discussing and researching suicide prevention more, why are suicide rates still rising?

That’s a complex question and I don’t have a single answer for that. One thing that we’re taking a look [at] intentionally on campus right now, and that other groups are doing, too, is thinking about means restriction and environmental safety. In Wisconsin, firearms are the leading means for suicide. We know that access to lethal means increases suicide risk. So we can do a lot of great work in prevention and education and in how we communicate about suicide, but it’s also important that we’re thinking about things like access to lethal means and some of those other environmental strategies.

How can we address suicide as a public health issue on campus?

Relationships are foundational to effective prevention. When I think about changing the culture, especially in a complex system like UW–Madison, I often come back to this quote that I heard: “Change happens at the speed of trust.” So having those trusting relationships with [campus and community] partners is foundational to moving the needle on some of these big, complex issues.

What should I do if I’m worried a loved one is at risk?

Warning signs look different from person to person. I tell people to trust your gut, and if something seems like it might be off, it’s always worth checking in with your friends and loved ones. [Respond by] practicing empathy, listening without judgment, asking open-ended questions, validating, and recognizing how challenging that must be for that person. It’s also really important, if you’re concerned about suicide, to ask directly about it. A lot of people are worried that if [you ask], that might put the idea in their head. But research shows that’s actually an effective prevention strategy that makes you a safe person to talk to about those feelings.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Nina Bertelsen x’19

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Local News Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:14 +0000 Nash Weiss poses with book of old newspapers

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Bill Glauber

For Nash Weiss x’19, the path to a career in journalism returned him to his hometown of Mondovi, Wisconsin. Over the summer, Weiss, a senior in the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication, served as interim editor of the Mondovi Herald-News, which ran his birth announcement years ago. He stepped in at the local weekly during the current editor’s maternity leave. “I grew up here. I care about the community. I always will,” Weiss told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “This is the way I could give back.”

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Memorial Library Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:14 +0000 The library was the state’s biggest building project since the Wisconsin Capitol in 1917. In the 1980s, plans for an eight-story addition were reduced by one floor to avoid blocking views of the capitol. Memorial Library is home to 3.5 million volumes — the largest single library collection in the state. Before the building’s construction in 1953, the library shared space with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Locked carrels, frequently called “cages,” are visible in this 1960s image. Second-year graduate students looking to avoid lugging books back and forth to the library can apply for one of the solitary study spaces. The library is known as one of the best places on campus to power through solo studying, a reputation reinforced by one review posted on Google: “Quietest public place for UW students. Not suitable for group work.”

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Wisconsin Quidditch Thu, 01 Nov 2018 15:47:21 +0000 Alison Pujanauski has the ball during a game of Quidditch with fellow students

“[Defenders] don’t always necessarily look at [the women], even if they’re standing wide open in the backfield,” says UW chaser Alison Pujanauski x’20 (pictured). “So it kind of makes you a secret weapon.”

On a chilly fall evening, the Wisconsin Quidditch team is trying to sell its game to the newest recruits: a pair of students who happened to be tossing a football on the Gordon Dining and Event Center lawn.

“It’s just like that, but with a volleyball,” one of the players shouts over to them. Her teammates chime in: it’s a combination of many sports, including rugby, dodgeball, basketball, and tag. They brag that a former UW football player has even joined their ranks.

Quidditch looks like organized chaos. Words can only start to describe it; YouTube videos do it much better. There are three chasers, who score points by passing and throwing a volleyball — or quaffle — through the opponent’s goals (three hoops propped up with PVC piping). There’s a keeper, who serves as the goalie and blocks scoring attempts. There are two beaters, who throw dodgeballs — or bludgers — at opponents to briefly knock them out of the game. Later on, there’s a seeker, who attempts to end the match and score a bounty of points by catching the snitch, a tennis ball wrapped in a sock dangling off the backside of an impartial runner. (Yes, quidditch is a contact sport.) Oh, and all the players must hold a PVC pipe — or broom — between their legs at all times.

“Wait.” One of the recruits reaches an epiphany: “Is this, like, the Harry Potter thing?”

Twenty years after the U.S. release of the first Harry Potter book, quidditch — sans the wizardry and magic — is still found on many college campuses. “We’re working on the flying,” says a deadpan Chris Noble PhDx’20, president of Wisconsin Quidditch.

The human — or muggle — version of quidditch was created in 2005 by imaginative students at Middlebury College in Vermont. In those early days, it stayed as true as humanly possible to author J. K. Rowling’s once fictional sport, with players using actual brooms and wearing capes. Quidditch has since evolved into an international phenomenon, with several governing bodies, a major league in the United States, and a world cup featuring nearly 30 countries. There are more than 150 college and community teams nationwide.

Quidditch is a rare coed sport. No more than four of the six active players (or five of the seven, when the seeker enters) can identify as the same gender. While intense and competitive on the pitch, the sport is known for its congenial spirit among players and teams. “There seemed to be so much animosity in some of the [other] sports that I tried to play,” Noble says.

The game first arrived at UW–Madison in 2009, when Nikki Powers ’10 and Mary Howard ’13 established a student organization. The club vanished after a year or two, but its Facebook page remained. Noble — who began playing quidditch in his native United Kingdom — arrived on campus in 2015. After posting on the Facebook page, he eventually mustered up enough interest to revive the squad. Around 20 players now make up the roster and compete against nearby schools, including Marquette, Loyola, and Columbia College. Last year, the team qualified for the Midwest regional tournament for the first time but fell short of nationals. The tournament was held at Breese Stevens Field in Madison.

As practice unfolds, it’s easy to tell the veterans from the beginners. Newer players often fall to temptation, channeling their inner Steph Curry and futilely chucking quaffles from 30 feet away. The veteran players strategically and patiently align, pass, and weave until they’re in Giannis Antetokounmpo dunking range. Skilled players can momentarily move with their brooms tightly tucked between their legs, freeing up two hands for catching and throwing.

It’s clear that the athletes take this game seriously, even if some passersby don’t. During practice, a few students on their way to the dining hall sneak a Snapchat or point and laugh with their friends. The Harry Potter charm comes attached with a nerdy stigma. But the longer you watch quidditch, the more you notice the feats of athleticism and teamwork and less the quirks of its fantasy origin.

Perhaps the best description for quidditch is that it’s simply a sport — as real as any other.

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The Big Dig Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:27 +0000 Pulling a soil sample from frozen Wisconsin ground in January is not impossible, but it certainly isn’t easy.

Armed with a steel pick, plant pathology professor Douglas Rouse sent dirt, grass, and ice flying into the sunlight at the UW Arboretum as a small group of introductory biology students noted the location and condition of the frozen soil. Thawed or frozen, wet or dry, the soil remains an essential hunting ground. Within it lies the key to suppressing what the United Nations calls “the greatest and most urgent global risk”: superbugs — strains of bacteria that have grown resistant to traditional antibiotics. Superbugs could kill more people than cancer by 2050 if left unchecked, according to a 2014 report issued by the United Kingdom’s government.

More than two-thirds of new antibiotics come from soil bacteria or fungi. But since a small sample contains thousands of species of bacteria — and most of the antibiotics they produce are toxic to humans — it requires significant time, labor, and persistence to isolate effective antibiotic producers and to test for new compounds. With the prospects of profitability lacking, pharmaceutical companies have shied away from developing new antibiotics to focus on more lucrative drugs.

Enter Tiny Earth, an initiative based at the UW’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID). Rouse’s biology students are just a sampling of the nearly 10,000 students across 41 states and 14 countries who are mining soil to solve the superbug problem.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the main threats to global health and security, and the students have potential to discover new antibiotics to fill the void that currently exists,” says Jo Handelsman PhD’84, director of WID and founder of the initiative.

Each semester, thousands of students around the world dig into the soil in their backyards, farm fields, stream beds, and forest floors. Just like the UW students, they learn the techniques they need to identify new species and compounds. Along with building a database of new antibiotics with medical potential, Tiny Earth is addressing another looming global crisis: a shortage of students pursuing careers in science.

“One of the best ways to learn is to engage in science actively and to do research so that the thrill of discovery drives the learning process,” says Handelsman, who first developed the program in 2012 at Yale University. She saw too many first- and second-year undergraduates dropping out of the sciences and wanted to reverse the trend by offering hands-on research that pulls in techniques and ideas from disciplines such as ecology, genetics, and molecular biology. For students, it’s a galvanizing introduction to laboratory science: they learn new skills while solving real problems.

The UW introductory biology students spent last spring diluting their soil samples, culturing and isolating bacteria, and profiling the genomes of anti- biotic-producing microbes. Along the way, they made hypotheses about what they might find, learned and selected techniques, and synthesized their findings, all in the hope of discovering new antibiotic compounds. While the samples await final analysis, the initiative is betting on the odds that more participation will increase the chances of unique discovery.

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Reckoning with History Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:26 +0000 People walk past a decorative wall in the Memorial Union

Bryce Richter

Between 1919 and 1926, two UW student organizations took the name Ku Klux Klan, and a report delving into that era of campus history “does not make for comfortable reading, nor should it,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

In the wake of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last fall, Blank appointed a study group to research the organizations and their connection to the national KKK. She also asked members of the group, which included UW history professors, to advise her on how the university can respond to this painful history.

The group’s report, released in April, found that the campus community in the early 1920s did not question the presence of two organizations bearing the KKK name, including one that was affiliated with the national white supremacist group Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The report also detailed what Blank calls “shameful examples” of the UW community’s treatment of black and Jewish students and of Native Americans, who were excluded from the student body during that era.

“The history the UW needs to confront was not the aberrant work of a few individuals but a pervasive culture of racial and religious bigotry, casual and unexamined in its prevalence, in which exclusion and indignity were routine, sanctioned in the institution’s daily life, and unchallenged by its leaders,” the report says.

The study group also considered the question of renaming campus spaces. But members decided that, first and foremost, the university needs to take more substantive action to address the past and reinvest in institutional change. “We want our collective reckoning with this history to consist of a great deal more than the purging of unpleasant reminders,” the report says.

However, the Wisconsin Union Council, which governs Memorial Union, voted in August to change the names of the Porter Butts Art Gallery and the Fredric March Play Circle — named for the union’s first director and the Oscar-winning actor, respectively. Both men belonged to an interfraternity society that used the Ku Klux Klan name in the early 1920s but was not affiliated with the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The surviving family members of Butts publicly supported the move, which council members said would allow the Union to fulfill its mission by being more welcoming to students of all backgrounds. Butts ’24, MA’36 worked for inclusivity later in his life, including his refusal to allow segregated groups to use Wisconsin Union spaces. And in the 1950s, March ’20 fought persecution of Hollywood artists, many of them Jewish, by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Union council plans to acknowledge the professional achievements of Butts in another way at Memorial Union.

In response to the study group report, the UW has committed up to $1 million to research and install a public history project “that will document and share the voices of those on campus who endured, fought, and overcame prejudice” throughout its history, Blank says. The university will also fund a proposal to hire a new faculty member in four progams: Afro-American Studies, American Indian Studies, Chican@/Latin@ Studies, and Asian American Studies.

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Lake Invaders Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 Graphical illustration of the United States showing the spread of zebra mussels through the Great Lakes

Map: Bergserg/Istock; Illustration By Danielle Lawry

“It would be hard to design a better invasive species delivery system than the Great Lakes overseas freighter,” journalist Dan Egan writes in The Death and Life of the Great Lakes — this year’s selection for Go Big Read, UW–Madison’s common reading program. Egan’s page-turning narrative details how zebra and quagga mussels native to the Caspian Sea came to wreak environmental havoc: disrupting the aquatic food chain, fueling deadly algae blooms, and clogging intake pipes. Their “front door” to the Great Lakes is the St. Lawrence Seaway, which, beginning in 1959, gave ships from around the world access to 8,000 miles of U.S. and Canadian interior coastline. As freighters travel along the system of locks, they take on cargo and empty ballast tanks of water picked up in foreign ports — releasing small plants and animals from the ocean along with it. Invasive species have also sneaked out the “back door” of the Great Lakes, by way of the Chicago canal linked to the Mississippi River basin. Quagga mussels, called “the STD of the sea,” have found their way west to Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States.

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Bridge Builder Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:08 +0000 After fetching ketchup for fries and plastic utensils, the group settles in for lunch around a table at Union South near the College of Engineering campus. Conversation flows easily as students share updates about how fall semester — now just a few weeks old — is going, which classes are favorites, and how summer internships influenced longer-term plans. The chatter is frequently punctuated by laughter.

You’d never guess that the meal’s host attended college several decades earlier than these students, or that he did so under significantly different circumstances. He has an admirable way of setting aside differences and coaxing out similarities.

• • •

Rod Hassett ’62 excels at making connections. It’s a skill he has brought to lunch tables and conference room tables since deciding — after a nudge from his father early in his college pursuits — that engineering would be a good fit. Engineers analyze problems and suggest solutions within parameters that include affordability and safety, enthusiastically completing complex puzzles while the rest of us may only see the pieces. These specialized skills came naturally to Hassett throughout his lengthy career at Strand Associates, a Madison engineering firm.

After retiring from Strand in 2002, he called upon his knack for mentorship, joining the UW faculty as an adjunct professor and, for 13 years, teaching the capstone design course, which challenges engineering students to tackle real-life projects.

Along the way, Hassett had been nagged by an industry dilemma that couldn’t be solved with carefully designed bridges constructed of steel and concrete. How could a profession heavily represented by white men adequately address the problems found in a broad range of communities and demographics?

“We have huge engineering problems to solve over the next 50 years,” he says, adding that it’s essential to include a diverse societal representation to solve them.

“Diverse groups are going to make smarter decisions than like-minded groups,” Hassett continues. “Those voices needed to be at the table. And many of the problems that we need solved are in the inner cities. There’s no one better to work with the people in the inner cities than the people who grew up there.”

• • •

Hassett knew exactly where to find young people who could be encouraged to follow in his footsteps from the inner city to UW–Madison’s College of Engineering. He graduated from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1958, just prior to the city’s dramatic shift in demographics. From 1960 to 1970, Milwaukee’s African American population increased by 68 percent, due in part to migration from Chicago and the South. At Rufus King, minority enrollment slowly grew, reaching one-third by 1964; today, minorities represent 79 percent of the school’s student body.

Now called Rufus King International, the high school’s nearly 1,500 students take challenging precollege coursework. U.S. News & World Report includes it in the magazine’s rankings of nationally recognized high schools. Eighty-five percent of the 2015 graduating class planned to attend college, with another 10 percent intending to enroll in two-year institutions — a significant change from Hassett’s student days.

“My dad was really pro-education, but he came out of the Depression and World War II, and he didn’t have a lot of formal education,” Hassett says. “I grew up in an area where probably less than half of the kids went to college when they got out of high school, but there was no question I was going to college. Education has always been part of my life.”

As Hassett pondered how to bring more diversity into his field, he talked with Jeff Russell, then chair of civil and environmental engineering and today dean of the Division of Continuing Studies. Together they decided to recruit students to be engineers “like Barry Alvarez recruits football players,” Hassett recalls. He worked with the UW Foundation in 2006 to establish a scholarship program specifically designed to support Rufus King students who had an interest in becoming engineers. He provides scholarships for a student’s first two years, and the College of Engineering supports additional years. So far, 15 Rufus King graduates have been named Hassett Scholars. Nine have graduated from the UW — a track record that makes Hassett especially proud — and are now pursuing careers ranging from jet pilot training with the U.S. Air Force to working as a computer programmer at Google. The other six scholars are currently enrolled.

“The scholarship is a means to solving a problem,” Hassett says. “Now there’s a steady stream of kids coming from King. We’re solving a problem one person at a time.”

• • • Coty Weathersby x’19 was among the students having lunch with Hassett at The Sett in Union South last fall. Now a fifth-year senior majoring in chemical engineering, Weathersby supplements her course work with time in a campus research lab. Her current research centers on analyzing bacteria in wastewater; during a stint in a UC–Berkeley lab in summer 2017, she explored harmful contaminants in groundwater.

Although she’d been juggling honor societies and athletics at Rufus King and leaning toward majoring in chemistry, Weathersby says her selection as a Hassett Scholar spurred her to change plans. And she marvels at the interest Hassett shows in the students. “I never thought I’d actually get to see the face behind the scholarship,” she says. “When I first received the award, Rod came to the ceremony [at Rufus King]. That in itself was exciting because he got to meet my sisters and my mom.”

She adds, “I remember getting an email from him at the end of my freshman year that said, ‘Congratulations. I’m proud of you!’ ”

“That individual touch is just very, very rare,” says Mary Fitzpatrick, director of the College of Engineering’s Diversity Affairs Office. “Rod offers mentoring as a seasoned professional. I would even say Rod has mentored us. He continues to make sure that we understand the intent and the goals [of his scholarship].”

Hassett Scholars are part of the college’s larger Leaders in Engineering Excellence and Diversity program, which is designed to support populations that are historically underrepresented in the field, including low-income or first-generation students, women, and students of color. The college takes steps to make sure incoming students are aware of scholarships for which they can apply.

“Engineering is very competitive, and the climate of engineering can be harsh at times,” Fitzpatrick says. “Our message is that you all can succeed, and we’re going to help you succeed. Yes, you have to do the work yourself, but you’ve got a net that’s going to work with you.” The diversity office provides a comfortable space where students can come to hang out and talk between classes, hold math study sessions, and gather over a meal.

Brian Núñez, former director of the Engineering Summer Program and now the director of career advising and wellness at the UW’s medical school, remembers the first time he met Weathersby. “She gave me her résumé and said she was going to run a company one day,” he says with a smile.

That company may well be in Weathersby’s future, but in the meantime, she is honing her leadership skills. She serves as the academic excellence chair for the campus chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers, and she attended the organization’s conference during her sophomore year. “I remember walking into the convention hall, and it was filled with so many black engineers and engineers of color, and I thought, ‘Wow.’ I just don’t see that on TV. I don’t see that in the media, so it was great. It’s a reminder in times when I’m struggling … that there are a lot of other engineers who felt the same thing, but they’ve made it.”

She was one of three students who helped start the UW chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. The chapter’s members — numbering about 15 undergraduate and graduate students — do volunteer work and sponsor professional development events.

Weathersby’s motivation for involvement in the organizations, she says, is “making sure future Hassett Scholars have these resources.” She attributes “caffeine and time management” — and learning to say no — to her ability to juggle classes, research, student organizations, and tutoring.

“I don’t want to do something and not do it well,” she says.

Weathersby, who is eyeing graduate school to earn a master’s degree and, possibly, a doctorate, expresses admiration for UW faculty members who both teach and conduct research.

But for now, she emphasizes the powerful force of community. That, she believes, has been the greatest gift of all, in some ways eclipsing the financial support. She keeps in close contact with other Hassett Scholars, including those who have graduated.

Hassett makes sure that current students have ongoing support from each other by scheduling lunch sessions twice a year. “I really want to make sure that the older kids, the more senior people, are sharing their experiences with the younger students,” he says. “They can help each other so much.”

• • •

During last October’s lunch conversation, Hassett encourages each student to tell him what’s new. Weathersby describes her summer at UC–Berkeley. Devin Lafford x’19, a computer engineering student, details an internship at a company that designs medical devices. George Akpan x’19 tells the group that he wants to focus on wind power in his career, plans that earn an enthusiastic “Good for you!” from Hassett. Alexus Edwards x’21 says she’s leaning toward the biomedical field and recounts her summer as an intern with the Milwaukee fire department unit based at the airport.

Hassett nods, smiles, and asks more questions, easily sliding into the mentorship role he enjoys. The topic shifts to Park Street, one of the main thoroughfares to the UW campus, and he tells the students, “Here you had this gorgeous campus, but everyone coming there had to go down this ugly street.” He notes that his firm worked on a plan to give the location new life.

“When you do something like this as an engineer, you have a vision,” he says. “I could see that this was going to be the gateway to the campus.

“That’s one thing that’s nice about being an engineer,” he continues. “You get involved in things like that and you put your footprints in the sand. Early on you can see something, you have a vision for something, and you get it done. And then the rest of the world catches up. You just smile and walk on.”

As the scholars grab their backpacks and head off to their next classes or study groups, Hassett calls out, “Good seeing you guys!” With a smile, he adds, “See you in May — you’ll be a lot smarter by then.”

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