Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Research students study courts' influence on civil rights discourse

As the Supreme Court of the United States has announced decisions on several high-profile cases this week, many people have been reading their judicial rulings and scouring the Internet for articles about the cases and the issues they addressed.

That is what this entire summer has been like for Penny Trieu ’15 and Connor Dye ’15, who are helping Vincent Vecera, a Randolph political science professor, continue research on the way judicial decisions affect public discourse by declaring civil rights.

People on either side of an issue might start their discussions based on the prudence of the policies they support. But if a court issues a decision that declares a civil right, the argument changes, he said. “Once you’ve taken the argument to the rights level, you have to respond with a rights argument,” he said. “With rights arguments, you can’t negotiate.”

But proving that idea requires studying the way public discourse shifts after a court renders a decision that defines a civil right.

Trieu and Dye each approached Vecera to ask about opportunities with Randolph’s Summer Research program. He asked them to take a part in his ongoing research by looking at court decisions on two topics. Trieu studied several state court decisions that concluded that individuals have a right to same-sex marriage. Dye explored Supreme Court decisions related to rights of gun ownership.

The students found news and opinion articles on the topics of same-sex marriage or gun control before and after the court cases. They classified each argument as being based on civil rights or based on other ideas.

They only recently amassed enough data to begin detailed analysis, but Trieu said there did seem to be a shift towards rights-based arguments about same-sex marriage after court rulings affirm such rights. (Although the Supreme Court issued two rulings related to same-sex marriage laws this week, they will not be incorporated into Trieu’s research because they did not declare a constitutional right to marriage.)

Dye said he saw similar patterns in arguments about gun control and second amendment rights. Other events tend to also impact the discourse, but only for a limited time. “Whenever there is a big tragedy, there will be a lot more arguments about regulating gun ownership for mentally ill people,” Dye said. “Then they turn off to another argument, like the rights argument.”

This summer has helped Trieu and Dye learn a lot about judicial rulings and public policy, but it also has taught them patience with the sometimes tedious art of research, as they each had to read hundreds of articles. Vecera assures them that the effort is worth the reward of approaching and answering important questions.

“The things that make research worthwhile aren’t necessarily found in the day-to-day action of it,” he said. “You feel them at the beginning and the end.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Student Center is strengthening community on campus, Summer Research study shows

Randolph’s new Student Center buzzed with activity late into the night after an opening ceremony earlier this year. Students enjoyed food from the Skeller; socialized in the new commons area; played ping pong, pool, and video games; tried out a new dance floor; and exercised on state-of-the art fitness equipment overlooking the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains.

Amidst all of this excitement, Tsubasa Watanabe ’14 looked around and saw a research opportunity.
Tsuabasa Watanabe ’14 focused her independent study and a Summer Research project on Randolph's Student Center.

Watanbe, a sociology major, frequently ponders questions about how society functions and how people integrate with each other, particularly in the Randolph College community. As the $6 million Student Center renovation drew to a close, she proposed an independent study and Summer Research project that would examine the way the center impacts campus life.

“I thought maybe this is a chance to learn the answers to daily life questions through a scientific approach. That’s research,” Watanabe said.

Watanabe spent part of the spring semester observing how people interacted in the Student Center. She took note of the demographics of those using the student center, the activities they participated in, and with whom they interacted. She followed this with a survey that asked students questions about how they use the Student Center.

While analyzing the data this summer, Watanabe has determined that the new facility has served to strengthen community interaction on campus.

“The Student Center is really encouraging a sense of community,” Watanabe said. “I think it’s doing this very well because many people, according to the survey data, come to the Student Center alone, but they find someone here. It’s a nice place to just drop by and chat with people.”

Some survey responses indicated that sharing such a nice facility inspires students to treat the center—and each other—with respect, Watanabe said. “Since this is new and everybody likes it, everyone wants to keep it clean and nice. That also is creating a sense of community by making something symbolic for everyone to share on this campus.”

Watanabe is still analyzing some of the data she collected to learn more about the interaction between different demographic groups. She hopes her research can result in suggestions that will help more people use the Student Center and create a stronger community among the diverse student body.

“Many people have already found that they can do so many different things in the Student Center: they can eat, talk, play games, and study,” she said. “Having that kind of place is really nice. As many people do that, there are more opportunities for different people to get to know each other and find something in common.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Students make film for Summer Research

On a warm summer day, as the late afternoon sun beat down on a mountain in Amherst County, Virginia, Sonja Cirilo ’15 applied a thin layer of makeup to make Bill Bodine’s face look paler and older. A few feet away, theatre professor Mace Archer looked out over a valley and ran through a script in his head.

When the camera began rolling a few minutes later, Archer portrayed Bobby, a man carrying his aged father on a miles-long hike into the mountain wilderness. “Ain’t got a name, far as I know,” he said. “Besides, you don’t need to know where it is.”

Sonja Cirilo ’15 makes notes during the filming of a scene in Beholder.
Archer and students have worked together this summer to produce a film adaptation of Beholder, a one-act play written by retiring Randolph English professor Jim Peterson. Students took on roles ranging from storyboarding to post-production, giving them insight and hands on experience in the art of filmmaking.

“It was much more tedious than I anticipated. It took a long time, but it was a good experience,” said Ashley Peisher ’15.

In Beholder, Bobby realizes that his father, “Pop,”  likely will die soon. He carries Pop into a mountain where he hopes to reconcile their flawed relationship and help his father open his eyes. After discussing the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Bobby implores, “You got to learn to be a beholder, Pop!”

“They do have a lot of conflict between each other. They have a big secret that has torn them apart,” Peisher said. “It is really about trying to give his father this enlightenment before he dies.”

Archer directed and acted in Beholder more than 10 years ago when he and Peterson each taught at Montana State University – Billings. After Peterson came to teach at Randolph, Archer produced several more of Peterson’s plays in Montana.

Mace Archer talks with Skip Wallace and Bill Bodine about Beholder.
Cirilo and Peisher each helped Archer in a Summer Research project last year when they produced a play in a local motel as an experiment in environmental theatre. He invited both of them to participate in this new project this year. “I thought that the opportunity to shoot a film and give students the opportunity to see that process would be really exciting,” Archer said.

Because of Peisher’s design talent, Archer asked her to produce the storyboards—sketches that demonstrate the basic look of each scene and camera shot. He assigned Cirilo to oversee continuity—making sure that costumes, lighting, and props remain consistent from one scene to the next. He also wanted Cirilo, who hopes to act on television someday, to see how acting in front of a camera is different from acting on stage.

“I thought it was a really cool idea, and I wanted to get on board with it,” Cirilo said.

Skip Wallace, Randolph’s video producer, filmed the show and taught the students how to edit it using modern editing software.

The production crew recorded Beholder on a mountain over a period of several evenings in the past two weeks. This week, they are going through a painstaking editing process. The students hope to have the video ready to show by July 5, when Summer Research students will present the results of their projects. Then they will submit the video to several film festivals.

Peisher hopes that people will see the film and “I hope you will look around you and acknowledge the beauty of things around you, and really take in your surroundings, and be a beholder of beauty,” she said.

Friday, June 21, 2013

New donated horses join the Riding Center

Randolph students can enjoy riding two new horses that have been donated to the College.

Laura Narten and Tess Fortune, friends of Lauren Dees ’13, donated Christo (also known as Maximo), a 16. 1 hand warmblood.

Diana Cummings donated Kona, a 15.3-and-7/8 hand  Dutch Cross, to join another horse that she gave the College last year.

Both horses have moved in to the Randolph College Riding Center barn, and Chris Mitchell, director of riding, said they will make great additions to Randolph's growing riding team.

Chris Mitchell, director of riding, is very pleased with the horses and the experience they will provide to students. Most students rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to ride such quality horses, he said. “To have nice horses to practice on, show, and compete with makes a big difference in riding instruction,” he said.

Meet More Horses
This summer, you can meet many of the horses in the Riding Center through “Warmblood Wednesdays,” a weekly feature story series. Find links to the past features by browsing the Riding program’s Facebook page, and be sure to like the page so you can see the new features each week.

Minor in Equine Studies
Randolph College recently added an equine studies minor that gives students an academic experience that prepares them for working with horses in a variety of capacities. Learn more here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Transfer student finds more fun and academic opportunity at Randolph

A year ago, Elizabeth van Noppen ’14 had to make a difficult choice. She knew she should leave the campus that she had called home for her first two years of college.

At her first college, she did not experience the academic challenge that would help her grow. She also wanted greater diversity among her classmates and more social activities. “I wanted a place where everyone wanted to stay and have fun on the weekends,” van Noppen said. “I wanted a place that had a dynamic atmosphere and character.”

Transfer Week

Randolph College is celebrating Transfer Week June 24 – 28. Learn more and schedule a tour of campus at
That spring, she watched her older sister Marian van Noppen ’12 graduate from Randolph College. Inspired by her sister’s pride and positive experiences here, she decided to tour Randolph for herself. “During the tours and the interviews I had, there was a clear difference,” she said. “I felt like I was connecting with this school. There was diversity, there was challenge, and there was more opportunity in my field.”

A psychology major, van Noppen spent part of that first campus tour talking to Beth Schwartz, the Catherine E. & William E. Thoresen Chair in Social Sciences and assistant dean of the College. Schwartz told her about a Summer Research Program project she was working on to study how honor codes affect academic honesty and cheating. Hearing that Randolph students have opportunities to work on summer projects alongside experienced professors helped van Noppen decide to transfer to Randolph.

Transfer student Elizabeth van Noppen ’14, left, has enjoyed singing in Randolph’s female a cappella
group Songshine, fun traditions, and academic opportunities like the Summer Research Program.
Today, van Noppen is continuing that same research project on academic honesty in the 2013 Summer Research Program. Over the past few years, Schwartz and Megan Hageman ’13 conducted surveys to test how people viewed various dishonest academic behaviors. They found that students at colleges with traditional honor codes—featuring self-scheduled exams, a student-run judicial system for honor violations, and the expectation that students report violations—are more aware of standards of academic integrity than students at schools without honor codes or with a non-traditional honor code.

Van Noppen became interested as she saw the way Randolph’s honor system, including self-scheduled exams and many take-home tests, fostered integrity. “I noticed that the culture is really different. With less supervision, with more trust in your students, it makes students act more honestly, because there is that responsibility on them,” she said. “It’s helpful to see what mechanisms help reduce dishonesty in the classroom. I had always thought, to reduce cheating, you should add more consequences or try to manipulate the environment. Coming here and looking at the research, I've realized that's not the case.”

Van Noppen has continued analyzing data, focusing on the way gender affects academic honesty. She also helped finish a paper on the research which they submitted to the Journal of Ethics and Behavior.

In addition to Summer Research, van Noppen has enjoyed singing with Songshine, Randolph’s female a cappella group, and participating in events like Ring Week, when juniors and first-year students exchange gifts and juniors receive their class rings.

She encourages other college students who are looking for a change to tour Randolph and see whether it offers what they are looking for. “If you come here, you will have really special relationships with faculty and your peers,” she said. “You’ll be challenged academically, and you will have fun sporting events to attend. You’ll do quirky traditions. You’ll graduate knowing people you never thought you'd meet, and having friends you never thought you'd be friends with.”

New York internship gives Randolph student advertising experience

More than 10 years ago, Bobby Crosby ’14 went to work with his uncle at a cable TV network in New York City. The fast-paced work environment and the bustling city fascinated him. “I came back and told my mom, I love the big city, and I want to work there someday,” he said.

Crosby is already fulfilling that dream with an advertising sales internship for A+E Networks, the parent company for cable stations such as A&E, Lifetime, and History. For the next several weeks, he will work closely with account executives and support their advertising efforts.

“I really want the hands-on experience that the internship will give me with sales and a better grasp on the entertainment industry,” said Crosby, a business major minoring in sociology and communication studies. “I also want to apply all the information that I’ve learned at Randolph.”

Crosby, one of the captain’s on Randolph’s men’s lacrosse team, has completed internships every summer of his college career. Two years ago, he worked for a commercial real estate agent. Last summer, he interned with a consulting firm in Paris, France. He believes those experiences helped him when he applied for the internship with A+E Networks.

In the first couple of weeks of the internship, Crosby spent most of his time conducting research on new products, programs, and other developments with prospective advertisers. He then shares that research with account executives, which helps them make the case when they meet with the prospective advertisers. “It gives the account executive some more fire power,” Crosby said.

He also has been assigned to create commercial ideas for a new television show that has not been released. When he has time away from the advertising research, he watches the show and studies the demographics of its target audience. This will help him develop ideas for advertisers.

During the 10-week internship, Crosby travels daily from his hometown of Bethel, Connecticut, to New York City—a two-hour train ride. Then the day is full of assignments, but it is worth having the busy summer, he said. “The internship is definitely keeping me busy, but I've already gained an immense amount of knowledge in just this short period of time.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer Research student examines Blackwater Creek health

For 10 years, Randolph College students have been testing the health of Blackwater Creek, a tributary of the James River flowing through Lynchburg. This summer, Kavya Pradhan ’14 will analyze all of the test results and decipher what that data says about the waterway.

“We have 10 years’ worth of data, but we didn’t have anyone analyzing it,” Pradhan said. “I want to know whether we have recorded any trends.”

Kavya Pradhan ’14, right, and Galen Shen, a high school student assisting
with the project, take water samples from Blackwater Creek in Lynchburg.
Karin Warren, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies, began teaching her students how to test water quality in 2003, shortly after she began her position at the College. She still assigns students in her beginning environmental studies classes to take water samples each fall, with more advanced students serving as project leaders. They examine the stream’s physical and chemical characteristics, as well as the volume of insects, worms, and other small organisms that can be found in samples. “We’ve had well over 300 students who have worked on this project over the last decade,” Warren said.

A few years after Warren’s students began testing the waters, Lynchburg began efforts aimed at improving Blackwater Creek. Those efforts have included sewer system upgrades designed to stop sewer lines from overflowing into the creek during storms, as well as erosion control programs. By analyzing test results from before the work began to more recent data, Pradhan hopes to measure the impact that the improvement efforts have had.

“It’s really essential to see whether or not a type of remedial action is having an effect,” Pradhan said. “You might be spending millions of dollars on it without improving it.”

Ludovic Lemaitre ’11, sustainability coordinator, Sarah Lawson, an  environmental science
and physics professor, Karin Warren, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies,
 and Mimansha Joshi ’14 look for tiny organisms in leaves pulled from Blackwater Creek.
In addition to analyzing test results from previous years, Pradhan is collecting new information. On Monday, she led a group on a testing expedition on a section of the creek not far from the College. They spent a few hours collecting water samples, counting creatures found in the mud, and running other tests. It was a welcome break from more mundane data analysis.

“That’s what’s great about this project. I can stay inside and work on the computer going over the data sheets. But I can also go out and get into the stream,” Pradhan said. “It might be frustrating to get down the steep bank to the creek, but when you get down there you can look around and it’s really pretty.”

The project was featured in a story by a local television station on Monday. Read the WDBJ-7 story here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Recent graduate ready to begin federal job while continuing dance education

On June 17, Martin Wiley ’13 will begin working for the United States government. Wiley’s ability to secure a great position during a tough economy proves his dedication to preparing for a career both during the school year and on breaks has paid off.

He will serve as an information technology specialist for the Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. government office that manages job announcements, pension plan payments, and other related tasks. Wiley will provide technical support and hardware management for other federal employees.

“I was able to get the job because I had previously interned there for three years during my breaks from college,” Wiley said. “They decided that they would love to have me after graduation because of my work ethic and personality.”

The job’s location also places him in a position to pursue another dream: becoming a professional dancer. He majored in dance at Randolph and was well known for his contributions to dance concerts. However, because he did not discover his talent and passion for dance until his sophomore year at Randolph, Wiley is still new to the art. So when he gets off from his day job, expect to find him studying his passion in dance studios in Washington, D.C.

Sociology student explores archaeology at Civil War site in Lynchburg

Paula Addai ’14 combed her fingers through a large pile of dirt. She pushed smaller pieces of sand and gravel through a mesh screen that was laid across the top of a wheelbarrow and carefully scanned the material for anything that might be interesting. The day before, she found a button and a piece of ceramic.

Another student worker on the archaeological dig shouted, “I found another one!” Everyone gathered to see him pull a minie ball—a Civil War bullet—from the grounds where a historic battle took placesite.

Paula Addai ’14 scrapes through dirt in search of 
These types of discoveries make the tedious excavation, scraping, and sifting worthwhile, Addai said. “I love digging and finding stuff. That satisfaction is really rewarding.”

Addai is participating in an archaeology field school led by Lori Lee, Randolph’s Ainsworth Visiting Professor of American Culture. They are digging to discover artifacts and buried walls at Sandusky, a plantation that Union forces took control of and used as their headquarters while attacking Lynchburg in 1864. Although the Union army had ravaged much of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, they were repulsed by Confederate forces in Lynchburg.

Lee, an anthropologist who specializes in antebellum Virginia plantations, is leading the excavation at Sandusky to help find the footprint of the Civil War-era kitchen that once stood on the property so an accurate reconstruction can take place. Also, the crew is searching for historical artifacts that would otherwise be lost or damaged if the kitchen is rebuilt. They have found minie balls, a pocket watch fob from the early 1900s, harmonica plates, and other items.

Lee is especially interested in finding connections between Sandusky and Poplar Forest, a home built by Thomas Jefferson, because the two plantations were owned by relatives during the Civil War period.

Lori Lee takes a picture of a minie ball uncovered at Sandusky, a house
that served as Union headquarters during the Battle of Lynchburg.
In the first few days of work, the group found a buried brick walkway and also discovered where they think the walls of the kitchen were. They are currently trying to find the foundation. “It was really nice to be able to start to make sense of what has happened out here,” Lee said.

Most of the students on the project are history students from Lynchburg College, which has a partnership with the Historic Sandusky Foundation. Addai, a sociology major at Randolph, also got involved because she wanted to work on an archaeological project and learn about research methods.

Lee said that this internship is a perfect educational opportunity for Addai. “By doing this project, we do historical research, archaeological research, anthropological interpretation, and we use theoretical frameworks,” she said. “Those are research skills that she can carry on through sociology, and you learn them really well when you apply them in a research setting.”

Addai hopes the experience continues to yield artifacts that will allow her to piece together more information and stories about the culture of the people who lived and worked at Sandusky. “Sociology is all about learning about people’s way of life and society,” she said. “I want to find out what society was like here many years ago, especially about the slaves and how they related to the plantation owners.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Randolph student develops business plan for local food hub

Tu Nguyen ’15 is developing a plan to help grow business for a local nonprofit that grows organic food.

Two days a week, Nguyen bikes about five miles from the Randolph campus to Lynchburg Grows, an urban farm that provides education programs and grows produce to sell in the region. He became acquainted with Lynchburg Grows last semester while taking “Economics of Food and Sustainability,” a class which studies the economic and social factors related to food production and distribution. Impressed by the operation, Nguyen sought an opportunity to work with the organization. “I sent an e-mail to Lynchburg Grows and asked if they had some internships I could do,” he said.

It turned out that there was an opportunity. The nonprofit needs a business plan for establishing a local food hub that would help local farmers sell produce to large customers such as hospitals and schools. “It would be a cross between a farmer’s market and a wholesale distributor,” explained Nate Foust-Meyer, the Lynchburg Grows farm manager and Nguyen’s supervisor. “It’s a model for bringing local farmers together.”

Having Nguyen handle the economic analysis and write the business plan will allow the project to move forward faster while allowing Foust-Meyer and other staff to focus on the farm operations. “It plays to his strengths and what he’s happy doing,” Foust-Meyer said.

Most of Nguyen’s time is spent crunching numbers, such as the cost of growing produce and the wholesale prices that the target market would be willing to pay. But he occasionally takes a break from the business plan to pull weeds and plant seeds in the Lynchburg Grows greenhouses.

Nguyen also is working in another internship, doing marketing work for a local financial planning office which he discovered through Randolph’s Experiential Learning Center. The two internships together are teaching him lessons that he would like to apply someday in a career as a financial advisor. “I am learning how a real business works,” said Nguyen, who is majoring in economics, mathematics, and physics. “This will be a really good experience for me.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Student looks to the skies in astronomy research project

If scientists ever discover a giant asteroid on a collision course with our planet, they will owe a lot of their information on the asteroid to the observations of amateur astronomers such as Hart Gillespie ’15.

Gillespie is conducting a Summer Research project at Winfree Observatory, Randolph College’s 90-year-old observatory with a 14-inch telescope. He hopes to record an asteroid occultation and submit the data to an international database that helps scientists track asteroids.

An asteroid occultation is an instance when an asteroid passes between the earth and a star, blocking part or all of the light. An astronomer can observe that part or all of the star disappears momentarily, ranging from a split second to as long as 20 seconds. This can provide valuable information on an asteroid that is otherwise invisible.

“All you need is one occultation to see that the asteroid was there, but you would know where it was in only one instance in time,” said Gillespie, a physics major. “You would have no idea where it’s going, or how fast it is going, and you would not know the shape of the asteroid.” Those additional details can be pieced together as astronomers from many locations track occultations and send their data to the International Occultation Timing Association.

Gillespie’s plan is to pay attention to asteroid occultation predictions, usually published about a week in advance of a potential occultation, to schedule time to work in the observatory in hopes of viewing an occultation.

Observing occultations has been more difficult than Gillespie had anticipated, mainly because of weather conditions over the past several weeks. “I’ve learned it's cloudy a lot, so maybe I should go into radio astronomy,” he said.

While waiting for clear skies, Gillespie has been working with the College’s facilities staff on plans to improve the observatory facility with an electrical upgrade, scaffolding that will make the telescope easier to use, and a first-floor classroom area. He hopes the changes will make Randolph College Star Parties, held about once a month, more enjoyable for amateur astronomers in Lynchburg and more useful for physics education at Randolph.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Megan Wheatley ’13 continues pursuing master's degree in nursing

Megan Wheatley ’13 graduated from Randolph less than a month ago, but she already is halfway done with her master's degree in nursing.

Megan took advantage of Randolph College's dual degree program with Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. This program allows students to attend Randolph for three years and Vanderbilt for two. After the first year at Vanderbilt, students receive a bachelor of arts in health services from Randolph, after which they study for one more year to earn a master of science in nursing degree from Vanderbilt.

As a participant in Randolph's Davenport Leadership Program and a member of the volleyball team, Megan is one example of a student who applied herself and found great opportunities at Randolph. Over the next several weeks, we will introduce you to more members of the Class of 2013 who exemplify our motto Vita abundantior, the life more abundant. Return to the blog regularly to meet them.

Randolph College community mourns the loss of Joe Marotta

Joe Marotta addresses the Class of 2013
at Baccalaureate.
A Statement from Randolph College President John E. Klein

The Randolph College community is both shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic death of Joe Marotta. Joe was a much-loved member of the Randolph community and will be missed. He had been with the College since February 2012 and was an excellent controller, bringing strong experience and skills to his job. In a short time, he improved our audit, our control of student accounts, our control of assets and many other aspects of his position.
Joe most often could be seen on campus with a smile on his face, and we were extremely proud of him in the fall when he was ordained as a Permanent Deacon for Holy Cross Catholic Church after years of preparation. He was a fine person and respected and loved by many in our community. In his new role of deacon, Joe performed with joy and grace the College's Baccalaureate service at graduation in May. The Randolph community is grieved by Joe's loss and extends its thoughts and prayers to Joe's family and friends, especially his wife, Katie, and their five young children.
John E. Klein


Services for Joe Marotta will be held at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lynchburg, VA as follows:
  • Prayer service - Sunday 7-8:30pm
  • Funeral Mass - Monday 2:00 with a reception and burial to follow
More information can be found at

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sending Order Through Chaos: Student examines "Rule 30" math problem

A Randolph College student is using his math and computer programming skills to help solve a puzzling mathematical problem.

Nam Hoang ’15, an engineering physics major, and Marc Ordower, a mathematics professor, are working with Stephen Wolfram’s “Rule 30” to explore ways to keep chaos from disrupting a pattern. When Hoang expressed interest in the Summer Research Program, Ordower suggested working on this problem because it has fascinated him for several years.

This computer simulation demonstrates how Rule 30 can be
applied to a pattern. After enough rows, the pattern (the alternating
on-and-off straight lines) disappears into chaos.
Wolfram’s Rule 30 demonstrates entropy—the move toward chaos. To apply the rule, mathematicians define a pattern in a row of cells that can be either alive or dead. On the next row, the status of each cell depends on the pattern of cells immediately above it. After a few rows, the entire system begins to demonstrate chaos.

Ordower wanted to find out if there is a way to create a pattern that can remain constant over an infinite number of new rows, even as chaos grows around the pattern. If such a pattern does exist, it could have implications for numerous situations, such as sending data electronically. “We transmit data all the time, and some of that data is lost,” Ordower said. “There are lots of people working on how robust you can make a message, and how many resources you need to make a message robust so it arrives correctly.”

Ordower and Hoang are spending most of their research time with pencil and paper trying to devise an algorithm and mathematical proof that would show that there is a pattern that could continue indefinitely. Hoang also has been writing computer programs to help dig deeper into the question. “At first it looked like it was so simple. We were trying to prove that we could send information through chaos,” Hoang said. “It turned out that it was very complicated. I’ve learned to analyze it and understand it.”

Hoang’s efforts have yielded some insight. His computer program discovered a pattern that disappears into chaos, but parts of the pattern emerge again.

Solving a complex problem like this is much larger than a summer project, so Ordower expects he and Hoang will continue seeking an answer even after the Summer Research program completes. He said it is great experience for Hoang, who hopes to become a computer engineer, in working with a mathematics problem that has never been solved, which is the real work of mathematics.

“The bigger mathematics gets, the more open problems there are,” Ordower said. “There are thousands of mathematicians working on millions of open problems around the world.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Classics professor going to Iliad seminar

Amy R. Cohen, a classics professor at Randolph College, looks forward to spending time delving into the details of the Iliad this summer. She is one of 20 professors nationwide chosen to participate in a seminar on the Greek epic poem about the Trojan War in July.

The Council of Independent Colleges and the Center for Hellenic Studies is hosting the conference in July as part of the “Ancient Greece in the Modern Classroom” seminar series. Cohen and other professors at the conference will read and analyze the Iliad and discuss numerous issues related to teaching the literature to today’s college students.

Cohen, director of the Greek Play at Randolph, teaches students about the Iliad in one form or another in most of her classes, so she expects to bring many insights back to her classroom. She also expects to enjoy spending significant time studying the work of Homer, the Greek poet who helped inspire her interest in the classics.

“I have come to love the clear and complicated expression of Greek heroism in the Iliad,” Cohen said. “Homer’s men, women, and gods are fallible and frightening but redeemable and worth getting to know. The seminar will give me the opportunity to spend intensive time with these characters, to see them from new perspectives, and to learn about them from some of the leading scholars in the field.”

Cohen also is the director of the Randolph College Center for Ancient Drama. In addition to producing the Greek Play, the center publishes Didaskalia, a journal on ancient drama performance, and hosts a conference on that topic every two years.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Research Rocks: Randolph student and high school assistants making discoveries in Randolph's geological collection

A Randolph College senior and two E.C. Glass High School students are spending this summer transforming a geological collection with thousands of rocks and minerals.

They are cleaning, sorting, identifying, and labeling items in Randolph’s collection to make them more useful for education and research. Mimansha Joshi ’14, a Randolph student from Nepal, is leading the project.

“If we clean, identify, and archive them, they will be accessible not only for students and professors here, but also for other researchers in the region,” Joshi said.

The College’s collection of rocks and minerals is part of a larger natural history collection that includes bird, mammal, and insect specimens, many of which date to the late 1800s. Students started updating the collection and repairing specimens over the past couple of years, led by Emily Smith ’12, who now serves as a curatorial coordinator for the collection.

There are more than 1,000 pieces in the geological collection. “Some of the specimens are likely very rare, since some are from regions where mining and collecting are now restricted,” Smith said. “It is far too valuable an asset not to be catalogued and stored carefully.”

Galen Shen and Annemarie Taheny, rising juniors at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, are assisting Joshi in cleaning and organizing the rocks and minerals.

Shen said that with her mother, Karin Warren, and stepfather, Marc Ordower, teaching at Randolph and working with the College’s Summer Research Program nearly every year, she has always wanted to participate. But they always told her she was too young. This year, her mother, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies, became the faculty sponsor for Joshi’s project and asked Shen if she would like to help.

Shen hopes to someday turn her research toward the skies as an astronomer, but she was happy to have the opportunity to start with researching rocks. “I’ve always had an interest in research in general,” she said.

Shen invited Taheny, a friend of hers, to participate in the project as well. “I’ve never done a research project before, but I’m interested in going into science,” she said.

Shen said this project has helped expand on what they have been learning in school. “We both had earth science, so we know in general about different types of rocks, but this is much more in depth,” she said.

The project began with a mystery this summer: Many of the rocks and minerals in the collection have stickers with numbers written on them, but no one knows what the numbers mean. Joshi believes there must be a list somewhere. The research team has combed the attic of Martin Science Building and the archives of Lipscomb Library without luck yet, but they plan to keep looking. “Our mission is also to find the key to all those labels,” Joshi said. As they organize and identify the rocks, Joshi will enter them into an electronic database for the natural history collection.

Joshi is sharing stories and photos related to the research here on the Randolph College Natural History Collection blog.