A little something for your Spring Break reading list

If catching up on your reading is something you have planned for Spring Break, here’s something special to add to your list: Douglas Trevor’s book of short stories, “A Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space.” It’s an award-winning book written by a current University of Michigan English professor who will be at Liggett on April 11 to read from and discuss the book during the Book of the Semester discussion.

Trevor is taking care of the final details of the launch of his new book, a novel called “Girls I Know.” There are readings scheduled and a launch party and he just recently saw the finished cover art. His publisher, SixOneSeven Books, is still working on the back cover, which will include some nice compliments from other authors.

“Girls” is Trevor’s first novel and he found working on it much different from working on short stories. “The work on a novel is very engrossing but with a novel you can write hundreds of pages that never get used or follow a dead end for months,” he said. “I thought with the novel that I wouldn’t be worrying over every paragraph the way you have to with short stories, but I still did.”

When writing short stories, Trevor says, “You get accustomed to hearing a clock ticking in your head. You’re constantly thinking about length. I’ve gone back to writing short stories, but after writing the novel I find they’ve stretched; they’re much longer.”

Trevor said he finds himself writing a lot about the interaction of people who are having trouble connecting with each other, between people who are not quite seeing the world in the same way. And he treats the subjects with an offbeat humor that makes his characters human and relatable.

Bringing in a working author like Trevor is an outreach program of Liggett. “Bringing authors in contact with students helps reinforce the idea that literary fiction writing is a purposeful endeavor that continually invites readers to examine their values,” said English Department Chair Walter Butzu.

Before Trevor’s evening event, he will spend the day in the Upper School talking with students about the craft of writing and about his work – they are all supposed to have read “Labor Day Hurricane, 1935” one of the stories in “The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space.” In a neat bit of interdisciplinary learning, Upper School history students will read an article about the historical event against this fictional story is set and science teacher Russ Glenn will discuss the effects of hurricanes on reshaping coastlines, which is an element of the story.

Butzu says he finds bringing working authors into the classroom is an invaluable opportunity for students, especially those inclined to write.

The Book of the Semester Club meets at 7 p.m. April 11 in the Manoogian Arts Wing. It’s open to anyone, but please email Butzu if you are coming. If you want to purchase the book, click here, and visit douglastrevor.com for more information about the author.

Happy reading!

By Ron Bernas

Connecting our alumni

Every Thursday we devote Liggett Life to news about and for our alumni, a vital part of life here at Liggett.

University Liggett School alumni are coming together on social media sites like Facebook and Linkedin for the first time. The Alumni Office has a page on Facebook and a group on Linkedin. I hope that you will consider joining!

The Linkedin group in particular is growing fast, and some really cool things have been happening. One is a new subgroup created by the Alumni Board of Governors. Members of the board’s mentoring committee are using the site to help alumni network professionally. Here’s what committee member Craig Durno ’84 had to say about the subgroup they created within the alumni page:

“We all know how tough the job market is out there. Starting your job search as a recent college graduate must be a little scary these days. The Alumni Board wants to help Liggett grads find jobs by establishing a professional networking group. We are looking for alumni from a wide variety of professions to join our subgroup and act as a resource for college-age Liggett grads looking to enter the work force. If you would like to help young Liggett grads in their job search by sharing ideas about your profession, introducing them to valuable contacts or even letting them know about specific job opportunities then we encourage you to join.

“The flip side to this is how hard it is to find good people to fill job openings. If you’re an employer looking for somebody, why not consider a Liggett grad that is a part of this group?”

What a great idea, right? Now alumni all over the country can reach out to their Liggett community for help with career questions. Are you moving to a new city and looking for a job? Maybe you want information on a company before joining its board. Are you looking for fellow alumni in your area? Join the group and fire off your questions for feedback from your peers.

Recently, I wanted to see who in our alumni group worked in the technology field for an article in the spring issue of Perspective. I posted, and the response was huge! We have alumni all over the world working in medical technology, technology sales, programming and teaching. Here are posts from some of the alumni who responded to my quick note

Sue Nolff ’81: I am a professional web designer.

Angela Walton ’89: I work in international information systems for Walmart.

John Brooks ’79: I’ve been designing semiconductor chips for the last 30 yrs.

John Tintinalli ’89: I created the world’s first online transportation and logistics management system (used by Big 3 and their Tier-N supply chain), one of the first if not THE first real-time online auction platform for agricultural commodities, a mobile device based system for BMW that manages tracking/tracing of its Tier1 supply chain, e-commerce, CRM, CMS, and numerous solutions in the healthcare space (clinical data capture / EMR / CPOE, analytics, etc.)

The responses went on and on from there. All from a three-sentence post asking to connect with IT professionals. The University Liggett School alumni base is strong, and happy to help fellow grads. Visit the group for more information, and happy posting!

By Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager 

Discovery and Research from a Liggett Lecturer

On Thursday evening, film historian Dr. Leslie DeBauche will speak in the Manoogian Arts Wing as part of our Celebration of Women lecture series (more about that below.)

But today DeBauche spent the day with students, sharing her love of film and research with students.

Dr. Leslie DeBauche met with students today and will meet with them tomorrow before her 7 p.m. lecture Thursday night.

Just after lunch, she met with students in the Advanced Research Project Tutorial class. These are juniors who have volunteered to take part in the ARP, as it’s known, next year. The ARP is to be the capstone of a Liggett Upper School education under the Curriculum for Understanding. Several seniors this year have volunteered to try out the intensive research project and the juniors in ARPT are learning the skills and mindset needed to succeed next year as they take on their own project.

DeBauche spoke to the class as an example of someone who found a passion along an unconventional route and as someone who could help students understand the importance of research.

“I’ve always loved stories and always loved history,” DeBauche told the students. She earned a degree in English and at one point took a course in French film. The professor would put the films in context of philosophy and history and she quickly fell in love with film. Eventually, she received a doctorate in film studies. The films fed her love of stories, but she also fed her love of history by researching the films and the times in which they came out.

It’s through this research that she became fascinated with The Liggett School’s Class of 1917, the subject of Thursday’s talk.

In her research, DeBauche kept coming across the same group of silent film actresses – Mary Pickford and Billie Burke the two biggest names – who tended to be cast in roles as “The American Girl.” These characters were good, salt of the Earth types who could always be counted on to help the underdog. The actresses who played them were used by big advertising firms to sell just about everything.

“It seemed like businesses were making an awful lot of money off the ‘American girl’ and it led to thinking about who were the real American girls and what were the effects of the movies on them,” DeBauche said.

DeBauche came across the high school scrapbook of Helen Schloss, a member of the Liggett School’s Class of 1917. Scrapbooks were a common way of remembering high school in the early part of last century and many families have saved them through the years. It was full of movie and popular culture references DeBauche said showed the importance the film industry had on the lives of young girls at the time. She looked into the lives of the other girls in that class, names written by Schloss in the scrapbook.

“As I read this scrapbook and did the research I saw this was a pretty special group of young women,” DeBauche said. “And when I realized who Lydia Kahn (daughter of noted architect Albert Kahn) was, I thought there was something more going on here.”

She contacted Liggett and, with the help of Liggett archives, began researching each member of the class.

“My expectations were that these girls would have lived a pretty conventional life and get married right away after graduating, but that wasn’t the case,” DeBauche said. Many of the women married, for the time, much older and they did so many notable things, she said and she wondered why that was. It might have something to do with World War I, which the United States entered shortly before these girls graduated. They were called to help the country on the homefront in a way people hadn’t been before. But there was another thing.

“I think it had something to do with the curriculum of the school,” she said. “This was an incredibly well-educated generation. Miss Ella encouraged a kind of independence and were given the message that they could make a difference.

She will discuss her research and more Thursday. The lecture is free, but registration is required here.

By Ron Bernas

Learning pains

“This has nothing to do with whether I like you or not,” Middle School science teacher John Bandos said with a smile before he poked a student’s finger with a lancing device.

The student seemed more surprised that it was over so quickly — he had asked Bandos to do it because he was afraid of needles. “Now squeeze it,” Bandos said. “Get a good drop there before you collect it.”

Other, less-squeamish, students gave tips to their friends: “Push it in slowly and it doesn’t hurt.” Another student still drew no blood despite several painful pokes. Bandos tried, still no blood. Then he figured out why: The boy had forgotten to take the top off the sharp. One boy, despite several pokes, couldn’t keep the blood flowing long enough to collect four  drops for the test. A girl couldn’t stop hers. “Wipe it with alcohol,” Bandos told her. “It’ll stop immediately.”

It was time for the annual blood typing lab, something that’s been part of Bandos’ seventh-grade science curriculum for nearly 30 years. And in that time, Bandos has seen it all. He works the room with good humor, poking students, encouraging them to poke themselves and reminding others that they do not have to do it if they truly don’t want to. There is synthetic blood they can work with, and a couple students without signed permission slips saying they could participate in the lab looked dolefully at their classmates who were shouting out “I’m O negative.” To which another responded, “Me, too! Woo hoo!”

It’s the first lesson in a unit on the circulatory system that then moves into genetics and includes, at the end, a mystery for students to solve using information learned in class.

Bandos said he often finds that the students come in scared or worried or with the notion that they can’t do this lab and they end up having fun while they learn not just about science, but about themselves, too.

And they also got a kick out of the Hello Kitty and Cinderella Band-Aids they got when the lab was completed.

By Ron Bernas


Anyone up for a tour of the lungs?

Spring Break starts next week and while many people may head to warmer, sunnier places, the ninth graders are creating guidebooks of their own, hoping to entice travelers to a much different destination: The human body.

The idea was first-year Liggett Upper School teacher Tiffany Meyer’s and what she was trying to do was to find a way to assess her students’ knowledge of the eight biological systems in the human body in a way that was different from testing.

“Some students, when it comes to a test, get nervous, and I wanted them to demonstrate that they have a deeper sense of understanding of the information, but in a creative way that I might not otherwise see on a test,” she said. The other biology teacher, Russ Glenn, is also doing the project with his students.

So students were grouped, though some chose to do their own project, and asked to create a brochure detailing a trip through the human body and its biological systems. The results are a fun mix of science and humor and a project informed by the Curriculum for Understanding tenets of teamwork and creativity, among others.

For instance: One group’s tour through the heart offers tourists a chance to get up close and personal with phagocyte cells. “We offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a real Phagocyte cell. Phagocyte cells are created to find and destroy cells that have been infected with viruses.” Of course, there’s a legal disclaimer: Please do not go near the phagocyte cell if you are ill. It is highly possible that the phagocyte  cell may mistake you for a virus-ridden cell. Insurance does not cover sudden death by phagocyte cell.

Another group takes you to the Digester Amusement Park featuring rides like the Esophagus Shoot and the Cooling Colon where you are “shot up, across, and down with the help of mucus.” As one might expect, you are dropped off in the gift shop.

Meyer seems as excited as the kids working on them. She says she’s truly seeing a new side of her students and she takes great pleasure from seeing the creativity — and knowledge — on display.

In the end, the students present their work and the winner is voted on by the other students.

As great as the kids make these trips sound, though, I’ll probably still choose someplace warm and sunny.

By Ron Bernas

An epic learning journey

Liggett’s fifth-grade colonists

Earlier this year, the fifth grade embarked upon a great journey of discovery, literally. First, they were voyageurs, French Canadian explorers, and they rode in a canoe, cooked a meal they would eat, set up a trading post and read, wrote and lived their existence.

On Thursday, for their parents, and today for the rest of the Lower School, the fifth graders, in full colonial costume, showed off their knowledge of colonial America with the traditional Colonial Nights. It’s an extravaganza of learning in which everyone who attended came away with more knowledge about the era.

Led by fifth-grade teachers Therese Chouinard and Maureen Zamboni, the 41 students spent weeks creating a character who would have lived in colonial America. They created a story about why they left their native lands and how they came to the shores of a new land. They researched the trades of the era and chose one to become. There were tailors and blacksmiths and shipwrights and silversmiths and glass blowers and teachers and store owners and milliners and architects and more. They showed their research in well-prepared multi-media presentations (on ye olde iPad). Also included was a concert, an art display (of handmade clay pie steam-releasers made in art) and huge collaborative murals depicting the different groups of colonies.

And the project spilled over to Spanish class where fifth-graders learned of the Spanish influence on the colonies and compared the history, music, art and literature during the Spanish Colonial period.

In gym, they pretended they were onboard a ship and climbed the rigging, working together to save the ship. In science, they studied colonial scientists like Benjamin Franklin as they created their own science projects.

Because of this project, which every fifth grade for years has done, the colonial era becomes much more than dates and names in a textbook. It’s something that lives and happened to people like them and their parents and their grandparents, many of whom served as the inspiration for their colonial characters.

It’s a fun ride for the parents and students in other grades who saw the presentations and a journey toward greater understanding of our history and our world for the fifth graders.

Celebrating a job well done.

And it’s not the last journey they’ll take this year: Later on, they’ll create wagon trains and travel west, using geography skills to determine the quickest, safest route, math to figure out how much weight their wagons can carry, and problem-solving skills to determine how far they can go each day. It’s another lesson in living history. Another lesson in the Curriculum for Understanding.

By Ron Bernas

Playwright retells Detroit’s story

Each Thursday we feature news for and about alumni, such a big part of the life of Liggett.

I received a lovely phone call earlier this week from Mercilee “Lee” Jenkins ’64. A playwright, Lee had some exciting news to share about her newest work, and I jumped at the chance to feature it for this week’s blog post. Lee happily agreed, and sent along some wonderful information!

Lee is a celebrated playwright, poet and performing artist in addition to being a professor of Communication & Performance Studies at San Francisco State University. She has many impressive credits including the plays, Dangerous Beauty: Love in the Age of Earthquakes and AIDS, A Credit to Her Country, The Two-Bit Tango, Menopause and Desire or 452 Positions on Love, and She Rises Like a Building to the Sky, which was recently published. She also co-edited an anthology of essays and performance pieces entitled Sexualities and Communication in Everyday Life.  She has received grants for her playwriting from the Horizons Foundation, the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the San Francisco Arts Commission and the California Institute for Contemporary Art as well as Distinguished Performance Awards from the National Communication Association and the Western States Communication Association.

She sounds busy, right? Well, Lee hasn’t stopped there, up next her work is being

Click here and print the show’s flyer.

performed here in Michigan. Lee has written a play called Spirit of Detroit, and it’s being performed at University of Michigan on March 23-24 in the UMMA auditorium at 7 p.m.

The play is being performed by a group of students as part of a project called the Understanding Race Project, part of U of M’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences themed semester for Winter 2013. The Understanding Race Project aims to explore the idea of race as a social construct. Check it out here.

Lee’s work is a perfect fit for the project. Spirit of Detroit tells the story of two people, a black man and a white woman, who return to Detroit after a long absence to find a very different city. They grew up in different worlds only three blocks from each other, survived the 1967 riot together, and meet again 40 years later.  As they revisit their past, they come to a new understanding of their relationship to each other and the future of the city.

Lee says she was inspired to write the play after her own trip to Detroit in 2004 after a 14-year absence. The play began as a one woman show about Lee’s own upbringing in Detroit. As the play developed, she felt it needed a second voice. “I wanted to find an African American man who had grown up around the same time I did in the same area who was willing to tell some of his stories.  Fortunately, I found Thomas Phinnessee, who generously shared his experiences, which became the basis for the character, Anthony.  The fact that he is an artist made possible the evolution of this play into what it has become and gives me hope for the city of Detroit where art and music manage to thrive against all the odds or maybe because of them.”

In addition to this run of the play, Spirit of Detroit was selected for the New Plays Festival in Detroit and the Theatre Bay Area Playwrights Showcase and has received staged readings in San Francisco, Phoenix, and Chicago. In June, the play will receive a staged reading at the Arts Club in New York as well.

A big thanks to Lee for sharing this exciting news! We are always looking to share stories and news from our alumni. If you have a story to share send it to me at slee@uls.org or call the Alumni Office at 313.884.4444, Ext. 415.

Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

Robotics, the ultimate challenge

It’s crunch week for Knight Vision, Liggett’s robotics team.

This weekend is the team’s first meet of the season. Team coordinator Kim Galea and her assistant Tiffany Meyer are feeling pretty good about it. Based on the results of another round of competition last week, they know their team’s robot is able to do things other schools could not do.

The team is hard at work.

This year’s challenge is called Ultimate Ascent and the rules, right from the FIRST Robotics website are as follows: “Two competing alliances (compete) on a flat, 27 x 54 foot field. Each alliance consists of three robots, and they compete to score as many (Frisbee-style) discs into their goals as they can during a two-minute and fifteen-second match. The higher the goal in which the disc is scored, the more points the alliance receives.The match begins with a fifteen-second Autonomous Period in which robots operate independently of driver inputs. Discs scored during this period are worth additional points. For the remainder of the match, drivers control robots and try to maximize their alliance score by scoring as many goals as possible. The match ends with robots attempting to climb up pyramids located near the middle of the field. Each robot earns points based on how high it climbs.”

So, basically, the kids have to figure out how to create a robot that can accurately toss Frisbees and climb something. Still, Galea said the students and she feel this is the hardest challenge in their three years of competition.

“We began with the idea that we’d just work on the climbing mechanism,” Galea said. “We didn’t know how we would be able to create a shooter for the discs, but the higher you climb, the more points you get. We focused on the climbing because we figured we’d do one thing really well and get as many points as possible there instead of doing everything only sort of mediocre.”

But the 21 students on the team — nine are freshman and the other twelve are divided evenly among the other three grades — came up with a shooting arm that seems to work and also is able to pick discs up off the floor (something many of the robots at last weekend’s competition couldn’t do) while creating a strong climbing robot.

But it took a lot of work. FIRST, which sponsors the robotics competition around the world, announced the challenge on January 5. All participating teams got a box of parts, but no instructions on how to use them. That’s when the work began. Students gathered Mondays and Wednesdays after school for two hours, on Fridays for 5 1/2 hours and for eight hours on Saturdays.

In addition to Galea and Meyer, they brought in parent Ron Jachim, who has helped for three years and an outside mentor who has worked with another school’s robotics team for years. Parents have sent in food and pop (“It’s amazing how much pop 20 kids can go through in a weekend,” Galea says.) to fuel the marathon working sessions.

Others have been very generous, too, Galea said, the Stahl Groupe, the Wu Family and Becker Ventures have joined the school in putting up $16,000 to fund the building of the machine, which includes many parts not in the original starter kit.

“It’s a lot of work,” Galea said, “But the kids get so much out of it. In addition to the tech experience, they learn about programming, wiring electrical boards, how motors work and even some of the business aspects of the group.” And they learn about teamwork.

“The main concept of the meets is that everybody wants everybody else to succeed,” Galea said. “That’s why they call it a ‘cooperatition’ — it’s a competition, sure, but you often have to cooperate with another team to do well. If a part on someone’s robot fails and we have an extra one we give them ours and we know they would do the same.”

There’s also another possible payoff, Galea said. There is $16 million in scholarships to students who participate in FIRST robotics. The only two Liggett students who applied for the scholarships received grants to pay for their education, Galea said.

The first competition is Friday and Saturday at Waterford Mott High School, with a meet at Center Line High School the following weekend. This year, the team will participate in a third competition at the end of spring break. They can work on the robots between the meets to improve them and, they hope, make a mark at the state competition in April.

For more on FIRST Robotics, click here.

By Ron Bernas

Liggett Scholars — Good News for Everyone

At a dinner Sunday, eight students who are the future of University Liggett School were celebrated as the 2013 Liggett Merit Scholars. They come from all over, though three of them are current Liggett eighth-graders.

This year’s scholars

The Liggett Merit Scholarship program was created to bring metro Detroit’s best students — irrespective of their ability to pay — to Liggett by offering full- and half-tuition scholarships for four years of Upper School. A generous gift of $1 million from the Moroun family has helped fund this important program. Last year was the first graduating class of Liggett Scholars and it included seniors who are now at Case Western, Williams College, Notre Dame, Yale, and New York University in Abu Dhabi. This year’s group includes early-admit decisions to Princeton, Cornell and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We look for students who will not only do well here, but do things in life,” said Kevin Breen  who runs the program with ample help from Ted Alpert.

Hundreds of students apply and take the Educational Resource Board test that is the first round of the selection process. A certain number are asked to come in for round two based on those scores and their grades from their current school.

Breen said any of the students who make it to round two are very capable academically. “What we search for in round two are the intangibles,” he said. “Intellectual curiosity, intrinsic motivation, and we discover that through interviews and an extemporaneous writing assignment.”

Breen says there is a greater good at issue here: “We feel if we add eight students with those qualities to our already highly motivated student body, it helps everyone.  We’ve seen it in our discussion-based classes, there’s a synergy and the level of dialogue is raised so every student benefits.”

This year’s Liggett Scholars are:

  • Lucille Alpert of Grosse Pointe Farms, a student at University Liggett School.
  • Samuel Brusilow of Grosse Pointe, a student at University Liggett School.
  • Antoni Dulac of Grosse Pointe Farms, a student at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic School.
  • Sarah Galbenski of Grosse Pointe Shores, a student at Parcells Middle School.
  • Brandon Johnston of Grosse Pointe Woods, a student at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic School.
  • Riley Marchin of Algonac, a student at Immaculate Conception Catholic School. Riley is the Moroun Family Liggett Scholar, funded by a $1 million donation from the Moroun Family Foundation for students who qualify for the Merit Scholarship and demonstrate financial need.
  • Amani Tolin of Commerce Township, a student at Laurus Academy.
  • Andrew Wu of Macomb Township, a student at University Liggett School.

These students have big shoes to fill, but they are up to the challenge, Breen says. They are among the brightest in the area, and they’re raising the bar for everyone at Liggett.

By Ron Bernas