Posts tagged ‘Richard Alley’

Climate of the Times

Faces@012_RAlley01CC_cropTuesday’s edition of The New York Times ran a special section on climate change, timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit this week in Manhattan. Two Penn Staters with very different perspectives on the issue feature prominently in the package.

The first is Richard Alley, the Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences in the College of Earth & Mineral Sciences whose work on polar ice cores and quirky, engaging style of bringing science to the masses has made him one of the country’s best known climate scientists. Alley serves as the primary source in the Times‘ explainer on carbon dioxide, our planet’s most prominent greenhouse gas. Alley has a gift for useful analogies, and his “pothole” comparison in the Times piece is a great example.

Then there’s Diane Ackerman ’70, the author whose latest book, The Human Age, continues a career-long passion for the natural world. Ackerman’s new book is one of three reviewed with climate change and its impacts as a unifying theme. As we wrote in our Sept./Oct. issue, The Human Age offers what Ackerman describes as a hopeful take on how humans are impacting the planet: “…how, despite our tendency to alter—and occasionally obliterate—our surroundings, humans still manage to cultivate beauty.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor

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September 24, 2014 at 12:01 pm 1 comment

Reading List: Eric Barron, Penn State’s New President

Eric Barron_FSUWe are hours away from being introduced to Penn State’s 18th president: Eric J. Barron, the president of Florida State University and a climatologist who spent 20 years in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, including four as its dean.

Onward State broke the story Friday afternoon, a few hours after Penn State announced that the Board of Trustees had scheduled a special meeting for today. The board’s compensation committee is meeting in executive session at 9 Monday morning, to be followed by an executive session of the full board. The public board meeting starts at noon at The Penn Stater conference center; it’s expected that the board’s vote on Barron will be followed by a news conference. We’ll have full coverage Monday afternoon.

Barron’s recent mentions in the media have centered around the investigation into Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of rape; you can check out his official responses to the news of the accusation and to the decision by Tallahassee officials to not charge Winston here and here.

But a deeper foray into the archives and Google provides a track record that gives insight into how Barron approaches funding issues and controversies, and it illuminates his academic specialty, climatology, as well. No less a respected figure than Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geosciences and a member of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a Nobel Prize, told the Centre Daily Times that Barron is “one of the real pioneering names in adding climate history to our understanding of climate future.”

This is far from a complete list, but here are some pieces I found interesting:

On state funding and tuition: Like many university presidents, Barron spent a significant amount of his time at Florida State dealing with dwindling state appropriations. (In 2012, Florida State’s appropriation had declined by 25 percent in four years, dating back to before Barron’s tenure.) His circumstance was slightly different, however, in that public universities in Florida can’t set their own tuition rates. When Penn State officials lobby for better funding from the state legislature, they argue that a larger state appropriation will allow them to minimize tuition rates. Barron was lobbying both for more money from the state and for the ability to raise tuition beyond what the Florida government would approve.

In April 2013, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the Career and Professional Education Act, which did increase funding for universities with “pre-eminent” academic programs. As of now, that’s just Florida State and the University of Florida, which will each receive an extra $15 million from the state. (Other universities can get more funding when they meet certain benchmarks.) Barron wrote this op-ed piece that appeared in several Florida newspapers in April. Among the highlights is this paragraph:

Quite simply, we have demonstrated that we know how to invest a  dollar in quality. Florida State is currently ranked No. 212 in financial resources among all the 270 ranked national universities. Since 1999, Florida State has dropped 46 places in financial resources compared to its peers, while at the same time achieving its highest quality ratings in 15 years.

Here's a photo of Barron, then dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, hanging out with the Nittany Lion.

Here’s a photo of Barron, then dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, hanging out with the Nittany Lion.

On fundraising: When Barron was hired as Florida State’s president in 2010, the initial news story from the St. Petersburg Times made clear that fundraising was one of his charges. (I can’t link to it, sorry; it’s no longer online.) According to the story, trustees had spoken of Barron raising $1 billion for the university’s endowment, which was then $446.8 million. Barron compared Florida State’s development staff to those at the two previous universities at which he’d worked—Texas and Penn State. Texas, he said, had one employee “on the road” raising money for every 3,800 alumni. Penn State, he said, had one employee for every 5,200 alumni. At Florida State, the ratio was one for every 14,000 alumni. Barron told the paper, “We’re not even saying hello.”

Barron did initiate a $1 billion capital campaign, which is about half over.

On changing conferences: At the height of rumors in 2012 that Florida State was considering a move from the ACC to the Big 12, several news outlets obtained an email written by Barron that listed the pros and cons of switching conferences. The list of pros was four short items and focused on improved competition in football and higher revenue. The seven cons fleshed out the fine print of the financial situation, including that Florida State didn’t necessarily have the money it would need to pay to leave the ACC, and included a caution that a switch would not serve the university’s academic mission:

The faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker—and in fact, many of them resent the fact that a 2% ($2.4M) deficit in the athletics budget receives so much attention from concerned Seminoles, but the loss of 25% of the academic budget ($105M) gets none when it is the most critical concern of this University in terms of its successful future.

On Bobby Bowden: Given the continuing sentiment that Penn State should honor Joe Paterno in some fashion, I found this piece in the Palm Beach Post particularly interesting: Three years after Bobby Bowden coached his last game, when Barron’s predecessor, T.K. Wetherell, had refused to renew his contract, Barron invited Bowden back to campus to be honored. Bowden’s departure had been contentious—he was so hurt he hadn’t set foot on the campus where he coached for 34 years—but Barron asked him to return to campus for a Bobby Bowden weekend. The culmination: Bowden planted the spear in the field before kickoff. From the story:

“It was important to me all along to make that call,” Barron said. “I knew there needed to be a little bit of space for a lot of different reasons.”

Barron also knew the tribute was necessary because “(so) much of the psyche of the university is tied to this great coach who put football on the map and helped made FSU a household name.”

On academic freedom: Before Barron arrived at Florida State, the economics department received a $1.5 million grant from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation to hire professors. The arrangement became controversial when it was revealed that contract allowed representatives of the foundation, bankrolled by a billionaire libertarian activist, to screen and approve hires. Barron eventually asked the faculty senate to review the contract; a committee found that the arrangement was improper, and the university changed guidelines to prevent future such incidents.

The Tampa Bay Times editorialized:

FSU leaders—including Barron, who joined the university after the contract was signed—did not initially acknowledge that the university had all but sold influence in the economics department’s operation for a paltry sum. But as more details became public in May, Barron requested the faculty review, and on Friday he ordered various campus leaders to take its recommendations to heart. It’s the right direction, even if it took two months to get there.

On a personal note: In 2011, Tallahassee Magazine did a joint profile of Barron and his wife, Molly, that painted a picture of Barron as a undergrad with long hair who favored “cutoff shorts and sandals” and included this fabulous story of how they met:

The Barrons say the tone for their relationship was set on their very first date. Eric had asked Molly to go on a hike in the mountains—but they had to start early so he could be back in town for a seminar.

“We get in my pickup truck and we’re driving up the mountain and it’s like 6:30 and I yawned,” he recalled. “She said, ‘Am I boring you already?’”

Molly continued the story: “But then he promised me I’d never be bored—and I never have been.”

“That was part of my marriage proposal,” said Eric Barron. “I said, ‘There’s no telling where we’ll be, what we’ll be doing, but I promise you, you won’t be bored.’”

I think I’ll stop there. I didn’t find any anecdotes about Barron that topped that.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

February 16, 2014 at 10:57 pm 7 comments

The Penn Stater Daily — Jan. 17, 2014

Portraits of Richard Alley

Making room next to his Nobel: Richard Alley, the Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences and member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been honored with the 2014 Arthur L. Day Prize and Lectureship by the National Academy of Sciences. The prize, given annually by the NAS to “a scientist making lasting contributions to the study of the physics of the earth,” stipulates that the recipient “should also be a good speaker.” On that front, we think Alley (who was elected into the NAS in 2008) more than qualifies:

His ability to teach geology through Johnny Cash covers notwithstanding, Alley has for years been on the forefront of climate science. It’s not just that he can be found hiking glaciers in Greenland or Antarctica, but how he finds ways to make his research—and its massive implications for all of us—accessible. It’s an honor to be on the same campus as this guy.

Latest from the BOT: My colleague Lori Shontz ’91, ’13g is all over this week’s Board of Trustees meetings. In case you missed it, she filed this last night on efforts to boost alumni participation in board elections, and posted this earlier today on the outside consultant brought in to help facilitate discussion on governance reform. She’ll have more later from Friday’s sessions.

A campus menace no more: Onward State takes a celebratory tone in its coverage of the removal of the “colored tiles of death” from in front of the Palmer Museum of Art. If you’re not familiar, the multicolored, geometric patterns that covered the sidewalks in front of the museum had a tendency to get very slippery when wet. They will not be missed.

Keeping Kidd: The University Libraries just made a very cool acquisition, securing the archives of famed graphic designer Chip Kidd ’86. The man responsible for some of the most iconic book covers of the past 20 years is handing over a treasure trove of design artifacts and inspiration, including design work going back to his undergraduate days, correspondence with authors like David Sedaris, John Updike, and Cormac McCarthy, and hundreds of pop-culture collectibles that have inspired his work over the years. Excited for this stuff to go on public display.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

January 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

Discovery-U: A Day to Think about Science

As challenges go, this isn’t a bad one to have. As Mike Zeman met with Penn State researchers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math to help the prepare for the short talks they are giving Friday at Discovery-U, he had to impress upon them how important the time frame is—only 15 to 18 minutes.

That’s not easy for these researchers to hit. “They’re so passionate about what they do,” Zeman ’98, ’01g says. (You might remember Zeman from our Jan./Feb. 2013 issue — he was featured in the “Everyday People” section.)

That passion should be evident Friday at Discovery-U, a day-long event at the HUB Auditorium in which Penn State faculty and researchers—and two students—will explain and tell stories about their research. The event has TED Talk overtones—the lectures are 15 to 18 minutes long, and the researchers are being encouraged to abide by the “TED commandments,” among them “Thou shalt tell a story” and “Thou shalt not read thy speech.”

Says Zeman, who’s also the director of Science-U summer science camps: “The real bottom line is expressing why this stuff is important in the future. What are the greater, bigger picture questions that are still out there?”

The lineup—suggested by students—is terrific. It starts with Tom Mallouk, Evan Pugh professor of chemistry, talking about micro-robots and ends with Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geology, who shared a Nobel Prize in science for his research on climate change, discussing “environmental science for people.”

Click here to view a PDF of the entire schedule.

This is the second such event; the first, suggested last year by the Graduate Women in Science organization, was targeted more toward “getting the Penn State name out there in a good way,” Zeman says. This year’s is also geared toward engaging students who might have an interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) and helping upperclassmen to consider research proposals. And still, Zeman says, getting the word out about Penn State faculty and research. The sponsors show the broad reach: Dow, the Eberly College of Science Alumni Council, and the Graduate Student Association.

They’re serious about reaching out broadly.

There are three sessions Friday in the HUB Auditorium—the first from 10:05 to 11:34, the second from 11:45 to 1:23, the third from 2 to 3:41 p.m. Each has five speakers. (Ideally, the organizers would like to have people stay for a full session, but they understand that classes and other commitments may interfere, so you’re welcome for any portion.) Plus, you can watch online at www.discoveryu.psu.edu, although the website isn’t active yet. (They’re hoping some alumni tune in, as well.) And within several days of the event, they’ll post the lectures to YouTube, making them available to anyone.

They would like you to RSVP, if possible: click here to do so.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

November 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm Leave a comment

The Penn Stater Daily — Sept. 23, 2013

From news to features, your daily dose of everything Penn State.

All sorts of science: Penn State researchers are making news in disparate and fascinating ways. Postdoctoral fellow Angela Brant is credited with the hunch that has led to new findings about the brain’s ability to learn new skills well into adolescence; Nobel Prize-winning glaciologist Richard Alley has co-authored a study confirming the discovery of an estuary—the first of its kind—under the Antarctic ice sheet; and Ph.D. candidate Joshua Stevens has come up with a pretty cool map showing nearly a century of Bigfoot sightings across North America.

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September 23, 2013 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

What’s New? Meet Our Intern, Sarah Olah

An introductory post from our fall intern, senior Sarah Olah.

My family and I traveled to Aruba a few weeks ago because I’m graduating in the spring and my mom wanted to have “our last family vacation.” During our seven-day trip, we met four Penn State families, had “WE ARE” chanted at us at the pool, and saw lots of Penn State merchandise—from people wearing it to seeing souvenir shops selling T-shirts saying “Penn State Aruba.”  Yes, we bought one.

DSCN3187

Here’s the T-shirt our intern bought on vacation.

In Aruba—thousands of miles away from our home in the Poconos—we met two Penn State incoming freshmen, both majoring in engineering. And my brother was getting ready to move into his freshman dorm in East Halls—and major in engineering.

Can you say small world? Or incredible?

(more…)

September 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm 3 comments

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