Alumni in Service to Oberlin
by Midge Wood Brittingham '60
Ten alumni of note returned to the campus to share real-life experiences in fields as diverse as Broadway theater, folk music performance, modern dance, economic theory, the ecosystem, co-op development, art criticism, museum curating, evolutionary biology, and poetry
Broadway legend John Kander '51 returned to the campus in early May to collaborate with the 70 students preparing "The Kander Review," a concert presented twice on Commencement weekend in tribute to John's Broadway musicals. His three-day visit was prompted by senior Randy Cohen's invitation to come and "give advice" to the 45-piece orchestra and nine Conservatory singers rehearsing the review. John, who has won two Tonys, an Emmy, and a Grammy award, and is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, immediately cleared his schedule and arrived at Oberlin ready to go to work.
Randy has been fascinated with Broadway musicals since childhood, and planned the concert as his final musical production. He conducted the company through selections from Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chicago, and several other of John's most memorable contributions to the theater. The work-in-progress performance May 10 earned rave reviews, and a beaming John was pulled from the third row by one of the performers to take a bow with the rest of the cast. John said he was astonished at the professionalism and polish of the troupe, including the special lighting and sound system designed by students especially for the performances.
Judith Kate Friedman '83 took time from her national touring schedule as a songwriter/singer of folk music to bring to campus a house-recital at Baldwin and a workshop, "How to Stay Creative after Oberlin." An award-winning composer (she won Best Song for "Separate But Equal" at the Northern California Songwriters' Association and honorable mention at the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, among other accolades), she earned her Oberlin degree in poetry writing, literature, and folklore, and studied mridangam drums and vocals at the Conservatory. Judith Kate believes that singing is everyone's birthright, and, when she's not on the road, takes her concept to senior centers, middle schools, prison populations, and to community folk radio. Her message to students, in part: "Stay in love with your chosen art form and remember why you want to do it; celebrate each step; persist."
Lionel Popkin '91, a member of the Creach/Koester Dance Company and a teaching assistant at Bennington College where he is an MFA candidate, performed in a showcase of solo works at an alumni dance concert last spring. His 20-minute performance entitled Are You Done Yet? was set in an absurdist world in which the furniture is made entirely of newspapers. The piece explored the phenomenon of being continually bombarded with new information so that nothing is ever finished. In a 10-minute scored improvisation, he studied "how movement adapts when the things you count on spiral out of control."
Russell Pittman '73, chief of the competition policy section of the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, addressed Professor James Zinzer's class on Law and Economics last February. His topic, "U.S. Antitrust Enforcement: Current Policies and Future Challenges" was followed by a public talk, "The Transition from Communism to Capitalism: Competition, Privatization, and Public Policy." At the Department of Justice Russ supervises professional economists in their application of economic theory to antitrust investigations, regulatory proposals, and competition policy issues, and has testified on a number of these issues. His professional work includes approximately 40 articles in leading U.S. and international journals, and collected essays.
In March Beatrice Van Horne '72, assistant professor in the biology department at Colorado State University, presented a seminar on "The Impact of Ecosystem Conversion on Ground Squirrels." Among her general research interests are social interaction and habitat heterogeneity in small mammals. Beatrice's research interests and her extensive publication record stem from her dual BA degrees in biology and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, an MS in zoology at Oregon State University, and a PhD in biology at Colorado State University.
Robert Kabat '49, special assistant to the chief executive office of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), was the opening-night keynote speaker in a two-day symposium, "Rebuilding Our Communities." The April conference examined how communities throughout the nation have organized to revitalize their local economies as a vehicle for community ownership and economic democracy. With his strong background in cooperatives, Bob shared his vision and hands-on experience at this conference which explored the connections between the environmental, community development, public service, and co-op movements, and examined how community-based enterprises can serve as tools for social change. The symposium was well attended not only by students, but by townspeople, faculty, and attendees from other colleges who wanted to learn more about cooperatives. Bob was accompanied to Oberlin by his wife, Lois Elmore Kabat '49
James Keller '75, program annotator, New York Philharmonic staff writer, and a music critic who also freelances articles on the arts for The New Yorker, spent a Sunday in Oberlin last April. His first offering to students was a discussion about writing for the arts as a career option, and outlining the positive and negative aspects of such a role in the arts field. That evening, Jim gave a preconcert lecture, "The Complete String Quartets of Dmitri Shostokovitch."
Martine Zilversmit '95 has worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York as a cultural resource assistant since her graduation, and she has generously arranged for Winter Term internships at the museum for Oberlin students interested in anthropology. In April Martine returned xto the campus for a presentation, "Collecting Culture: Salvage Anthropology and Repatriation at the American Museum of Natural History" focusing on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, accompanied by slides of Native American remains and artifacts. Museum course students joined her for an exploration of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History the following day, and she then met privately with students taking upper-level courses in museum archeology.
Joseph L. Graves, Jr. '77, associate professor of evolutionary biology at the Department of Life Sciences, Arizona State University West, was guest speaker at the Annual Senior Awards Banquet in late April. The distinguished author, lecturer, and researcher on aging and longevity, race, ethnicity and gender, evolutionary biology, the scientific method, and Black America addressed the students with enthusiasm. His book, The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon, an examination of race and IQ, was widely acknowledged to diffuse the conclusions of the authors of The Bell Curve based on "the pseudoscience of psychometry."
Sue Standing '74, professor of English and writer in residence at Wheaton College since 1979, has also taught at MIT, Harvard, the JFK School of Government and Wellesley. A prolific writer, her most recent book of poems, Gravida, set in Africa, was published in 1995. Sue spoke informally with group of students who were especially interested in knowing more about the field of poetry and in discovering how one goes about being published, followed by an open forum for all students interested in her work.
Midge Wood Brittingham is executive director of the Oberlin College Alumni Association