Monday, April 6, 2009

Going Back to My Alma Mater -- Brown University

This past weekend I spent at Brown University, my alma mater, which is in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown University is one of the oldest universities in the United States and had the first undergraduate engineering program in the country. I have four degrees from Brown and my husband has two. Brown's President is Dr. Ruth Simmons, who is the first African American female to lead an Ivy League University. Her story is truly amazing -- the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, she is one of eleven children. She has been the President of Brown since 2001 and, under her leadership, Brown has reached new heights in scholarship and education.

For once, I was the "trailing spouse." My husband was invited to be on a career panel, organized by the Department of Physics at Brown. The Saturday program brought back alumni of the Physics Department, from undergraduates through doctoral alumni. The program was the initiative of President Simmons, who also made an appearance, and declared that the physics career event was one of the most successful ones to-date. Alumni from industry, including IBM, and from academia, including Williams College and Johns Hopkins University, spoke on their experiences to an audience of students, faculty, and administrators. Physics Brown alums that returned to campus and participated in this special event also included venture capitalists, employees of national research labs and of financial firms on Wall Street. My husband discussed his experiences, as a tenured professor at the University of Hartford in the College of Engineering.

Of course, a visit to Brown enabled me to see my former dorms, from Andrews Hall on the Pembroke Campus, to Diman House next to the Sharpe Refectory, to the Russian House. Brown has expanded its medical school and Life Science building and its athletic facilities but has managed to preserve its historical buildings and unique layout and design. Walking on the East Side of Providence, where Brown is located on College Hill, brought back so many wonderful memories. Coincidentally, yesterday, April 5, 2009, was the anniversary of my doctoral dissertation advisor's death. My advisor, Dr. Stella Dafermos, was the first female to hold an appointment in the Divisions of Applied Mathematics and Engineering at Brown. I was her first doctoral student. She passed away in 1989 and her work continues to be cited to this day and to make an impact in fields from transportation science to computer science. We stopped by the Swan Point Cemetery on Blackstone Boulevard, where Stella is buried, to pay our respects.

Walking through the Brown Green, I visited the statue of the Brown mascot, the Brown bear, with the inscription that contains the terrific phrase: "To Symbolize those Qualities of Strength, Courage, Endurance, which go Far to Make Men Invincible."

Brown and Providence have changed since I graduated but the beauty of the architecture and landscaping, plus the friendliness of the people remain! As for the food -- it is hard to top an Italian meal on Atwell's Avenue in the Federal Hill district of Providence!