Quitting smoking is a common New Year’s resolution for Americans each year, but research has repeatedly shown it is not an easy task. Some groups, such as racial/ethnic minorities, have an even harder time quitting. New research suggests hard-hitting graphic tobacco warnings may help smokers of diverse backgrounds who are struggling to quit. A new study by researchers at Legacy® and Harvard School of Public Health provides further evidence that bold pictorial cigarette warning labels that visually depict the health consequences of smoking — such as those required under the 2009 Family Smoking and Prevention Tobacco Control Act — play a life-saving role in highlighting the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.The study is one of the first to examine the effectiveness of pictorial warning labels versus text-only labels across diverse racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Although a growing body of research has shown that disadvantaged groups may differ in their ability to access, process and act on health information, little is known about communication inequalities when it comes to cigarette warning labels.The study authors note that text-only cigarette warnings have been repeatedly characterized as unlikely to be noticed or have an impact, and cite prior research indicating pictorial warning labels are more effective. Read Full Story
After May, when exams are finished and final papers submitted, Harvard students take to the world. But where exactly do they go and what do they do once they get there?Here is a sample of how students from the Law School (HLS), Kennedy School (HKS), the Business School (HBS), and the School of Public Health (HSPH) used the tools they sharpened at Harvard to help build a better world.Karima Ladhani, who is working toward a doctor of science in global health and population at the Harvard School of Public Health, chose Mombasa, Kenya, as the place she’d make an impact. The Aga Khan Hospital was in dire need of better processes and procedures to help the very limited staff use time efficiently and diagnose patients as accurately as possible.When she arrived in Mombasa to share her passion for public health, teaching, and volunteering, Ladhani was surprised at what she encountered. The challenges the nurses faced each day had slowly eroded their hopefulness and had taken a toll.The months that she spent in Mombasa gave her a firsthand awareness of the public health challenges in small villages, and her time at Harvard equipped her with the know-how such that she was able to offer the nurses and doctors essential tools and recommendations to improve their procedures.“There was something about this time — being there put your optimism into perspective,” Ladhani said.Since her return to the U.S., there isn’t a day that passes when her experience doesn’t come to mind, she said. “Something happens and I stress about it, and my trip to Kenya puts everything into perspective.”Toward the end of her summer, Ladhani also traveled to Seattle, Mexico, and Vancouver before heading to Boston to finish her degree.Sudipta “Nila” Devanath, a 2L at HLS, spent her summer in Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Department of Justice as a legal intern in the Antitrust Division.“I had the chance to work on the investigation of a potential hospital merger [and I] researched and presented findings on the geographic market, joint contracting, clinical efficiencies, financial integration, and high-risk management programs,” she said, viewing the experience as a career builder.McArthur Pierre, an HBS student, spent his summer between Kampala, Uganda, and Nairobi, Kenya, as an investment associate where he searched out small businesses that needed help with financial modeling and raising capital. “I’ve always known about the opportunities in East Africa, but to be there and personally help small business owners succeed was something I’ll never forget,” he said.
Hitting the perfect tennis serve requires hours and hours of practice, but for scientists who study complex motor behaviors, there always has been a large unanswered question — what is the brain learning from those hours spent on the court? Is it simply the timing required to hit the perfect serve, or is it the precise path along which to move the hand?The answer, Harvard researchers say, is both — but in separate circuits.Bence Ölveczky, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences, has found that the brain uses two largely independent neural circuits to learn the temporal and spatial aspects of a motor skill. The study is described in a Sept. 26 paper in Neuron.“What we’re studying is the structure of motor-skill learning,” Ölveczky said. “What we were able to show is that the brain divides something that’s complex into modules — in this case for timing and for motor implementation — as a way to take advantage of the hierarchical structure of the motor system, and it imprints learning at the different levels independently.”To tease out how those independent circuits operate, Ölveczky and his colleagues turned to a creature well-known for its ability to learn — the zebra finch. The tiny birds are regularly used in studies of learning because each male learns to sing a unique song from its father.In a series of experiments, Ölveczky’s team used traditional conditioning techniques to change the timing of a bird’s song by speeding up or slowing down certain “syllables” in the song. They could also change which vocal muscles were activated and have the bird sing at a higher or lower pitch.“But when you change the pitch of a syllable, the duration doesn’t change, and when you change the duration the pitch doesn’t change,” Ölveczky said. “It appears the neural circuits for the two features are separate.”Additional evidence that the circuits for learning motor implementation and timing are distinct came when researchers lesioned the basal ganglia of the birds — the region of the brain long thought to play a critical role in song learning.“The thinking had been that there was one circuit for song-learning in general,” Ölveczky said. “We found that if we lesioned the basal ganglia and repeated the pitch-shift experiment, the bird could no longer use the information it got from our feedback to change its behavior — in other words, it couldn’t learn.”Experiments aimed at changing the birds’ timing, however, were just as effective, suggesting two separate learning circuits — with only one involving the basal ganglia.Such independence and modularity is critical, Ölveczky said, because it allows different features of a behavior to be modified independently if circumstances change. Parallel learning of different features can also speed up the learning process and enable the flexibility we see in birdsong and many human motor skills.“If you learn something — it could be your tennis serve, or it could be any behavior — and you need to slow it down or speed it up to fit some new contingency, you don’t have to completely re-learn the whole thing, you can just change the timing, and everything else will remain exactly the same.“In fact, ‘slow practice,’ a technique used by many piano and dance teachers, makes good use of this modularity,” Ölveczky said. “Students are first taught to perform the movements of a piece slowly. Once they have learned it, all they need to do is get the timing right. The technique works because the two processes — motor implementation and timing — do not interfere with each other.”The hope among researchers, Ölveczky said, is that a better understanding of how birds learn complex motor tasks such as singing unique songs will help shed new light on the neural underpinnings of learning in humans.“For us, this is inspiration to look at similar types of questions in mammals,” he said. “The flexibility with which we can alter the spatial and temporal structure of our motor output is similar to songbirds, but our understanding of how the mammalian brain implements the underlying learning process is not anywhere near as advanced as for songbirds. The intriguing parallels in both circuitry and behavior, however, suggest a general principle of how the brain parses the motor skill learning process.”
Chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, are the leading cause of death worldwide, with the burden falling heaviest in low- and middle-income countries. A new article by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers outlines the global burden of chronic, or noncommunicable, diseases and proposes ways in which national leaders and heads of international organizations can develop systems to cope with these long-term conditions that the authors call the “dominant global public health challenge of the 21st century.”The article was published October 3, 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine as part of a series on global health edited by co-author David Hunter, Vincent L. Gregory Professor in Cancer Prevention and Dean for Academic Affairs at HSPH, and Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine and former dean of HSPH.According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, noncommunicable diseases contributed to 36 million deaths globally in 2008, accounting for 63% of 57 million total deaths. The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 estimated that mortality due to noncommunicable diseases increased from 57% of total deaths in 1990 to 65% in 2010. About 80% of deaths related to noncommunicable diseases occur in low- and middle-income countries. Read Full Story
The chasm between the rich and poor has distressed world leaders as both a moral failure and a growing threat to global economic and political stability. In a bold statement last fall, Pope Francis sharply criticized what he saw as the excesses of capitalism, while President Obama called the historic level of wealth disparity and lack of economic mobility in the United States “the defining challenge of our time.”Just as income trend lines for affluent and poor Americans have dramatically diverged over the last 40 years, so too have the educational achievement rates of their children. Today, residential segregation by income means that public schools with high rates of low-income students face spiraling challenges to prepare children for a workforce that demands high-level skills.Research shows that while the correlation between parental education and child achievement has remained fairly stable since the 1960s, the relationship between parental income and child achievement has tightened, with income — rather than race — now a strong predictor of student success.In “Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education” (Harvard Education Press), Richard J. Murnane, Thompson Professor of Education and Society at Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), and Greg J. Duncan, distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Education, examine how income inequality affects students and schools.The book focuses on three innovative institutions that have taken steps to counteract the achievement burdens that wealth disparity places on schools and students: a pre-K school in Boston, a high school in Brooklyn, and a University of Chicago charter school. All have high academic standards, provide substantial and ongoing support for students and teachers, and maintain common-sense systems of accountability. While unusual, the authors say, the philosophies and practices at these schools could serve as models for change at other schools with similar populations.“It can be done. It is not impossible to educate even high concentrations of low-income children well,” Murnane said Thursday evening during an Askwith Forum in HGSE’s Longfellow Hall.Duncan and Murnane spoke about their work and offered some strategic interventions they called “sensible accountability” that schools can adopt. The talk also featured a panel discussion with Martha Minow, Ed.M. ’76, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor at Harvard Law School; Clarence Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune; and Paul Reville, the Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Educational Policy and Administration at HGSE and the former Massachusetts secretary of education.Given the increasingly complex skills that students must master to succeed in today’s workforce, Duncan and Murnane suggest, schools need to deliver better instruction and learning opportunities, and be rightfully held to higher achievement standards. But too often, teachers and school leaders are not getting the adequate training and support to make those goals a reality.“At the very time that we’re upping the ante on schools and what they have to do, we’re creating conditions in those schools that make them harder and harder to teach those skills,” Duncan said.Numerous past efforts to address the inadequacies of many public schools, such as more per-pupil spending or the creation of charter schools, have failed to consistently slow the trends of the last few decades.Just as average per-pupil spending in public schools continues to vary widely among communities and states, so does the amount spent on student enrichment outside of school. In 1972-1973, wealthy parents spent $2,857 more per child than low-income parents to supplement learning; in 2005-2006, wealthy parents spent $7,993 more per child, according to the book.While money and how it’s spent matter, Minow noted, that’s not enough. Research shows that rich and poor students spend equal time looking at computer screens, but their skills from that engagement are not equal, she said.“The difference is not time on screens, the difference is access to adults and coaches, and are you in a community with other people who help you as you navigate, whether it’s educational stuff or it’s games or whatever,” said Minow. “That’s the difference, and that’s reflected in those [parental] expenditures.”Minow and Page agreed that one major obstacle to implementing any new idea to improve education broadly is overcoming the public’s disappointment with past reform efforts that simply haven’t delivered on their promises.“I think the danger is there’s this constant effort in school reform to find the magic bullet, the one thing that’s going to fix things,” Minow said, praising Duncan and Murnane’s emphasis on “sustained intervention,” not a quick fix. “Nothing is sustained; there’s no long-term anything.”“The fact is that we’re talking about some deeply rooted problems,” Page said.“Everybody wants better schools. There’s a consensus nationally that we need to improve our schools, that we need to save education,” he said. “There is also a universal disdain for paying for improving schools. However, if we show that change is possible, that change can happen, and can work,” then he thinks we can find “consensus for change.”
Paris agreement greatly expands international commitment to reduce damage, Stavins says At last, global fretting on climate change The Paris climate agreement may turn out to be more than just a major step to protect the planet. It may also wind up being a monumental public health measure.So says María Neira, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Public Health and Environment.“This is a strong agreement for public health, probably one of the biggest we’ll sign this century,” said Neira, one of a group of public health experts who addressed health and climate change Wednesday at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.Panelists at The Forum at Harvard Chan School said that the public health argument for action on climate change has gained resonance in recent years, with air pollution from burning fossil fuels for power becoming an acute problem in developing nations such as China and India.Jack Spengler, the Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation and director of the Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, pointed out that Beijing experienced its first red alert for air quality while climate talks were underway in Paris. Local health authorities’ recommendations to stay indoors during air pollution episodes are of little practical use, Spengler said.“Where do they think the indoor air comes from? Outside. This is the old days in London.”Climate Change: Health and Disease Threats | The Forum at HSPH In this Harvard Chan School forum, public health and policy experts picked up where COP21 left off, taking on the critical piece of health within the climate change conversation.WHO estimates that outdoor air pollution causes some 7 million premature deaths each year, while indoor air pollution ― largely from burning wood and biomass for cooking and heat — leads to another 4.3 million early deaths.Cleaner technologies that help reduce burning of fossil fuels and of indoor biomass will provide what Spengler called a “double win” of lower warming emissions and improved health due to air quality. New cooking methods could also be a factor in women’s rights and the rights of children, who are disproportionately affected by both the need to gather wood and unhealthy indoor air.But cleaner air is just one potential health benefit of the Paris agreement. Panelists said that progress against climate change could yield a range of other health-related changes, including fewer droughts, less disruption to agriculture and food supplies, and a dietary shift to less meat and more plants. Related <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYIeFPcpN2A” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> <img src=”https://img.youtube.com/vi/HYIeFPcpN2A/0.jpg” alt=”0″ title=”How To Choose The Correct Channel Type For Your Video Content ” /> </a> “There’s really nothing about our health not in play with climate change,” said Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment and a pediatrician at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital. “Regardless of what aspect of health you might want to talk about, climate change matters.”Bernstein pointed out that changes linked to the Paris accord will occur over the next 40 years, as the children and grandchildren of today grow up and raise families of their own.“People care about their health and absolutely care about the health of their children — that’s one of the most powerful arguments we can make,” he said. “We have to realize that we stand to gain so much.”Barry Levy, co-author of the book “Climate Change and Public Health” and a former president of the American Public Health Association, said that indigenous peoples whose traditions tie them tightly to the land might be among those most affected by climate change. A warming Arctic affects the Inuit and other native peoples of the far north, but also groups in other parts of the world, such as Masai herders in sub-Saharan Africa, whose lifestyle is tied to cattle, which are vulnerable to droughts.Times of scarcity can become times of insecurity as well, Levy noted, leading to violence as groups struggle to maintain a hold on suddenly vanishing resources.At the local level, leaders have made “resilience” a point of emphasis. It’s an important step, panelists said, as individual cities will need strategies against the front-line effects of climate change, such as higher sea levels and hotter heat waves.“Everyone can understand ‘resilience,’” Spengler said. “This is what we want to build into our communities.”Bernstein cautioned that the potential health impact of climate change solutions — including innovations in energy — should be considered from the outset, to avoid creating an base of long-lasting, yet ultimately harmful, technology.“We know enough to be able to think critically about our health-energy future,” he said.
Danoff Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana announced today the appointment of the new faculty deans of Currier House. Professor Latanya Sweeney and Sylvia Barrett will take their posts this fall.“I’m tremendously pleased that these two very talented and strong members of the Harvard community will assume these important roles,” Khurana said. “Both Latanya and Sylvia have demonstrated a strong commitment to teaching, learning, and community-building in their careers, and will be a wonderful addition to Harvard College’s residential community as the faculty leaders of Currier House.”Sweeney is professor of government and technology in residence and director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard. She is editor in chief of the journal Technology Science, former chief technology officer at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and distinguished career professor of computer science, technology, and policy at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2001, Sweeney became the first African-American woman to earn her Ph.D. in computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).Her undergraduate program began at MIT, and after 10 years away to run a business, she returned to graduate with a degree in computer science from Harvard Extension School in 1995, at which time she gave a motivating and often-cited graduation speech about those in academic despair.Barrett is a lawyer who has lived most of her adult life in Cambridge but grew up in New York and South Korea with her African-American father, Korean mother, and younger brother. She first came to Cambridge to attend MIT and immediately felt at home in the area’s diverse communities. During her junior year, she got the entrepreneurial bug, like many of her peers at the time, and left MIT to start a computer company with Sweeney.After almost 10 years in the business arena, Barrett returned to school and graduated from Harvard Extension School (A.L.B. ’95) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (J.D. ’02). For a brief time, she worked in the Science Center, designing and facilitating technology options for the Extension School and Harvard Summer School courses. In law school, Barrett was editor in chief of the Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law and Policy, won the National Association of Women Lawyer’s Student Achievement Award, and received the School of Law Community Service Award. After graduation, Barrett engaged in private practice, specializing in business law.The two met as MIT undergraduates and have been together for 30 years. Their son, Leonard, is 8 years old and into everything. His current passions are “Magic the Gathering” trading cards, chess, reading, and biking.Interim Dean of Student Life Tom Dingman, who assisted in the search, said of the new deans, “The students, tutors, and staff on the in-house advisory committee who met Latanya and Sylvia were impressed greatly by their warmth, varied experience, and high energy and interest.”
After six years on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, President Kenji Yoshino ’91 steps down this year. Yoshino, a Rhodes Scholar and the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University Law School, sat down with the Gazette recently and looked back as well as ahead, reflecting on everything from the board’s work to his years as a College student. GAZETTE: Your term on the Board of Overseers and as board president is ending in a few months. Any advice for your successor?YOSHINO: I have an inkling of who that successor might be. And I have no advice for that individual because that individual is spectacular and will do a terrific job.I will say, however, that when I assumed the role of president of the board last year, the most helpful thing I did was to engage in a listening tour of my Overseer colleagues. I took suggestions for the kinds of plenary sessions that we would have this year, meaning that our agenda arose out of consensus.Our first meeting in the fall was about The Harvard Campaign and how we can make the most of its final two years. The second was about inclusion and belonging, which provided us with an opportunity to engage with the leaders of President [Drew] Faust’s task force. The third was about the mentorship of tenure-track faculty. We have sessions coming up on Allston and on digital learning.One procedural change, which also arose out of that listening tour, has been a constant. We’ve tried to create more of a conversation with the individuals who generously come to present at our plenaries, whether it’s a group of faculty members or a dean or members of task forces. We’ve been saying to all of our presenters: “Let’s just try an experiment in living for a year, in that we’re going to be much more interactive. When you come in here, we want you to talk at the outset for just a tiny amount of time. Because what we really want to do is invite you into a conversation. We come from all different walks of life, and hopefully you’ll be able to get the equivalent of 13 ways of looking at a blackbird.”GAZETTE: So the plenary sessions have become more a conversation than a presentation?YOSHINO: Exactly. And a continuing dialogue about what’s best for the University also occurs between the sessions. For each of our meetings this year, we’ve had some set of queries sent around before the meeting. For the mentorship meeting, for example, we sent around a questionnaire saying to Overseers: “Can you describe an experience of positive or noteworthy mentorship you had? What made it work? How might it translate to the context of mentoring tenure-track faculty here?”It got a conversation going, and leveraged the diversity of the board. Of the bodies that have leadership responsibility here, the Board of Overseers may well be the most diverse demographically and professionally. For that reason alone, we can add value as a focus group. The hope is to say: “What don’t we know? What could we understand better? How could we make this University better?”GAZETTE: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing Harvard in the years to come?YOSHINO: The biggest challenges are, frankly, endemic to all higher education. But because it is so visible, Harvard will create a cascade effect where it succeeds; conversely, if Harvard stumbles, the world will hear about it.When I think about those challenges, the first is the affordability of higher education that we’re all struggling with these days.Another one would be trying to think about an education in noninstrumental terms, which means defending the humanities and a liberal education in a world that seems to relentlessly emphasize education in increasingly vocational terms.And a third would be how to deal with demographics that are different in kind from anything we’ve experienced before. We’re going to be a nation in 2050 where no ethnicity, for example, is going to be a majority. That’s a place that we’ve never been before as a country. So fortifying ourselves so we’re an institution in which students from diverse backgrounds can not only be admitted to the University but can also all thrive here, I think that’s going to be a major challenge. GAZETTE: How would you describe the responsibilities of the board?YOSHINO: The Board of Overseers has 30 members elected by the alumni. There are some matters we formally decide. But for the most part, we give the University the best advice and counsel we can with regard to its long-term objectives, ideals, and strategies.As a practical matter, we have these plenary sessions that bring together all of us, and then six different standing committees that meet on the mornings before the plenary. Three of those committees focus on the humanities and arts, the social sciences, and the natural and applied sciences. The other three have to do with the Schools, with finance, administration, and management, and with institutional policy.We have other committees, together with the Corporation, on honorary degrees, on audit, on alumni affairs and development. And we offer advice through all of those channels.And then there are our visiting committees, on which we sit and which report in to us. I was correctly told when I came on the Overseers that “visitation” would be one of the most significant parts of our remit, because a visiting committee is a committee that engages intensely with a department or School. These committees exert significant influence in affirming or redirecting the trajectory of a department or School.GAZETTE: Which visiting committees have you sat on, and how did those specific experiences go?YOSHINO: The College, the English Department, the Law School, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study — all were fantastic experiences.Just to take an example from the College. I remember the visit right when Dean [Rakesh] Khurana was coming in to his first round of meetings. He was inspiring about what Harvard is doing and how it’s trying to help its students become good citizens and leaders. The second-best part of the visit was his query: “If we were Harvard, what would we do?” The best part of the visit, as is often the case, was meeting the students.GAZETTE: What made you accept the invitation to run for Overseer?YOSHINO: It was really President Faust, in candor, and also love of Harvard. Harvard changed not just not my own life, but my family’s life.My father was a professor at Harvard Business School, so I grew up in Belmont and then in Cambridge. I grew up as a “fac brat.” I went to boarding school, then “came home” for college, given that Mather House was a stone’s throw away from where my parents lived.I did a couple of years at Oxford, and I went to Yale Law School and taught there for a number of years. But I’d always felt a deep tie to Harvard for what it’s done for my family, and what it did for me when I was an undergraduate here.It was a completely transformative experience where I really felt I learned — it’s a little mortifying to put it this way — but I learned how to read and write at Harvard as an English major. And I wrote a collection of poems for my senior thesis. I worked with Seamus Heaney and Helen Vendler, and it was just a kind of peerless educational experience. I still, even as a law professor, teach my constitutional law classes as classes on interpretation.And when President Faust called me six years ago, I thought, “Well, here is a completely inspirational individual.” She told me about the Board of Overseers and her vision of the University: One Harvard, interdisciplinary studies, increasing access to the University, a profound commitment to the humanities at a time when the humanities were beleaguered (as they still are). I felt this would be the perfect way to close the circle and return to Harvard.GAZETTE: How has your view of Harvard changed through your experience as an Overseer, compared with what it was when you were a student?YOSHINO: Seismically. As a student, of necessity, you’re only getting one cut of the University. As an Overseer, you’re seeing across the whole.I have a better understanding of Harvard as a university than I do of Yale as a university or NYU as a university, even though I’ve been a professor in the law schools there. Being on the board gives us such a privileged perspective.I have described it as being like the red dot or storm that moves over Jupiter. You’re constantly roving over the surface, so you get to understand this vast University much better than you could from any other vantage point.I knew the College as an undergrad and the Business School because my dad taught there. But that was about it.Now, as an Overseer, I’ve seen so many different parts of the University, including ones that I’d never set foot in as a student, like the School of Design, the Radcliffe Institute, which didn’t exist as such then, the Divinity School, the Kennedy School, the School of Public Health. The i-lab obviously wasn’t here when I was here, and that’s a really extraordinary space to visit. So it’s a privileged perspective.We’re sitting here in Loeb House, and Lamont Library right outside still looks exactly the same as it did when I was working late nights there as a student. The Henry Moore sculpture is still out there, right by Lamont. I wrote a fine arts paper on it to satisfy a core requirement. Houghton Library, which you can also see through the curtains there, is where Helen Vendler took us to see the correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, which for me as an English major was extraordinary, and also the papers of Sylvia Plath. I took a seminar in Plath, Lowell, and Bishop with her, which, again, was a game-changer for me. It’s just amazing to see the kind of schoolgirlish handwriting Sylvia Plath had. She might have been dotting her i’s with hearts, but the things she was writing were, of course, of a different tenor — the contrast is still extraordinary.It’s wonderful to think that some things have remained exactly the same. But at the same time there’s immense transformation. Not even leaving the world of architecture, look at the Harvard Art Museums’ renovation, which we can see through the other window. It’s an extraordinary transformation of that space. I try to sneak in there from time to time when I’m here because it’s literally across the street. It’s just been revitalized.President Faust once said, “Harvard endures because Harvard changes.” And Harvard also endures because what’s incomparable about this University is preserved. I hope that we as Overseers play some small part in thinking about how best to craft that story of change and continuity.
As a sophomore at Wellesley College, Adele Fleet Bacow was attracted to architecture and art. Soon, after enrolling in a course on urban sociology, she found a passion that combined her love for the arts with her desire to help enhance the vitality of neighborhoods and communities.The only problem was that Bacow had to develop her own major, since the path she envisioned didn’t exist at her college. Fortunately, a cross-registration program had recently been established between Wellesley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Creating a major in urban design, she was able to draw greedily from classes in the schools of architecture and urban planning at MIT.The experience was not exactly new. Growing up as the fourth of five siblings in a close-knit family in Jacksonville, Fla., she was used to charting her own course.“It was wonderful to be part of a large family,” said Bacow in an interview at Loeb House. “There is never someone doing things for you, for the most part. You learn to be fairly independent and forge your own way.”Now, Bacow is looking forward to leaving her imprint at Harvard.On a recent Monday morning, Bacow spoke with parents, helped carry boxes, and posed for photos as she and her husband, Harvard President Larry Bacow, welcomed first-years to campus. It was, in many ways, a continuation of the warm and personable style the Bacows demonstrated as first couple at Tufts, where they hosted senior dinners, served pancakes to students during reading period, and once performed a hip-hop dance with faculty that nearly brought down the house. In her new role, Bacow plans to stay connected to student life, but with limits.“We have a lot of energy, but I’m not promising hip-hop,” she said, breaking into laughter.A Wellesley College graduate with a master’s degree in city planning from MIT, Bacow feels fortunate to have built a career that combined her interests in community development and the arts, while also helping to raise two sons and supporting her husband’s pursuits as a scholar and higher ed leader.At the helm of Community Partners Consultants, a firm she founded in 1996, Bacow’s work focused on urban planning, cultural economic development, and the arts. Throughout her career as a city planner and urban designer, Bacow has worked with cities and towns, state agencies, and community-based organizations focusing on economic and community development, design, and the arts. Her work in the public and private sectors led her to advocate for better public environments and to promote design that highlighted the revitalization of downtowns, urban spaces, and public facilities. Much of her work drew upon the symbiosis of arts and community development.Design, said Bacow, is neither a “frill” nor merely “aesthetics.” It affects the lives of communities because it is closely tied to economic development. In 1995, she published “Designing the City: A Guide for Advocates and Public Officials” as a manual to inform efforts to improve “the way communities are planned, designed, and built.”“People used to say, ‘Why should I worry about design when there are more important things, such as schools and education?’” noted Bacow. “When I wrote the book, many mayors said they wanted their cities to have a better design because it benefits their communities. It improves their living environment, which attracts workers, businesses, and increases property values and tax revenues.”Bacow’s influence on urban design has left a mark, said Gary Hack, professor emeritus of urban planning at MIT, where he led the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Bacow and Hack met at the school while she was taking a course in urban design and architecture.“Adele was a pioneer in the field,” said Hack. “Back then, people thought economic development involved making industrial parks to attract companies to locate their offices or production factories. Not many people thought about the quality of design as an important tool to attract businesses to their communities. She made a career out of the intersection of design and economic development.”As director of design and development at the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, Bacow created a statewide program to advance the quality of design and planning. For her work with the council, she was awarded a Federal Design Achievement Award from the Presidential Design Awards program. She also served as deputy director of the Massachusetts Government Land Bank, responsible for the redevelopment of blighted properties and former military bases.Anne Hawley, who as executive director of the Council on the Arts and Humanities hired Bacow, recalled the role Bacow played in helping government officials advance design in the public interest. Bacow worked with main streets and small towns that were struggling with runaway development. She also organized bridge design workshops for engineers at the Department of Public Works and brought in Swiss bridge designer Christian Menn to chair a bridge design competition. Menn would play an influential role in the design concept for the cable-stayed Zakim Bridge over the Charles River.“Adele made people in government understand that design was an important part of everyday life,” said Hawley, who went on to direct the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from 1989 to 2015.“The Zakim Bridge was a result of her work. She helped us understand that design could improve public places and public life. From rural Massachusetts to the bridges, she figured out a way to involve architectural designers in enhancing theenvironment.”To connect government officials to the ways design impacted their communities, Bacow commissioned Anne Mackin and Alex Krieger to write “A Design Primer for Cities and Towns,” which was distributed to planning, conservation, and historic preservation boards across the state.“At that time, when the primer was published [in 1989], there was a growing concern about sprawling America and how it was becoming more suburban-focused at the expense of the quality of our towns and villages,” said Krieger, a professor in practice of urban design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.“Adele was determined, among others, to reinstigate a discussion about what makes good communities. She has been a great advocate for urban design and preservation and continuation of quality of life in our cities, small towns, and villages.”Over the past two decades, as cities and downtown centers suffered blight and decay, Bacow began promoting the arts as a tool to spur economic and community development.“I thought it was a bit schizophrenic at first, in integrating the fields of the arts and economic development, but now you see it recognized everywhere,” Bacow said. “People have realized the value of the arts in community and economic development.”Some of Bacow’s favorite projects include strategic plans for Artists for Humanity’s EpiCenter in Boston, business plans for community development corporations working to create jobs for low-income people nationwide, a master plan and economic development strategy for the Worcester Arts District, and a plan for an arts and cultural district for downtown Beverly, Mass.For Bacow, who grew up in a family that loved art, music, and culture, the role of arts is paramount to quality of life. Her father, a pediatrician, and her mother, a trained pianist and an active volunteer, would take their five children to local cultural events.“I have art in my soul,” said Bacow, who plans to bring a baby grand piano to Elmwood, the Harvard president’s house.Asked what she would have been had she not become an urban planner, Bacow said that she contemplated becoming a journalist or a high school art teacher, and that earlier in life she entertained the “fantasy” of being a ballet dancer. But becoming an urban planner was a perfect marriage of her love for the arts and her desire to help improve communities. It was a desire born in her teenage years when her work as a Head Start volunteer in Jacksonville took her across the railroad tracks on her bike and opened her eyes to segregation in her home city.“I didn’t realize how important that experience was,” Bacow said. “But in college, while taking an urban sociology class, I went back to those memories and I became interested in issues such as inner cities, community, and economic development.”As for her life at Harvard, Bacow said she relishes being surrounded by young learners and expects to maintain a healthy balance between her diverse interests and family life, which now includes Harvard students.“I spent my whole adult life around college students,” Bacow said. “I think it’s the best age in the world. College students are so full of life and promise, optimism, and idealism. There is nothing better.”
Radcliffe fellow heads a team helping preserve the ancient city of Nicomedia in modern-day Turkey New tool aids in sensing magnetic fields Uncovering an ancient world The purpose of Mesoamerican potbelly statues have been the subject of debate among anthropologists for decades: Are they depictions of the ruling elite? A way to honor dead ancestors? Or perhaps portrayals of women giving birth?As the various theories wound their way through academic circles, the surprising discovery four decades ago that many of the statues, found in Guatemala, are magnetized in certain spots added a new dimension to those discussions.And a Harvard study suggests that where those areas show up is no accident.Led by Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Roger Fu, a team of researchers has shown that artisans carved the figures so that the magnetic areas fell at the navel or right temple — suggesting not only that Mesoamerican people were familiar with the concept of magnetism but also that they had some way of detecting the magnetized spots. The study is described in an April 12 paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.“Our direct observation is that there are magnetic anomalies consistently on certain features of these sculptures,” Fu said. “And the question we asked is whether this is consistent with random chance, or does it require some knowledge or some awareness of where those anomalies are?“There’s some chance it could happen randomly, but as we find more and more sculptures that are aligned like this, the smaller than likelihood is,” he continued. “In this paper, we looked at four, and we found a less than 1 percent chance that this wasn’t intentional.”A close study of the anomalies, Fu said, showed they could only have been caused by one source — lightning.“All rocks contain magnetic minerals,” he said. “If you go outside and pick up any random rock, it is magnetic. It’s just very, very weakly magnetic. These rocks are basalts from the highlands of Guatemala, and they happen to contain quite a bit of magnetite, as well as other magnetic minerals.”Rocks typically become magnetized as they cool, and minerals like magnetite, hematite, and iron sulfides become aligned with Earth’s magnetic field. While that process can create detectable magnetic fields, Fu said they are usually not even strong enough to move a compass needle.The fields found in the statues, however, are far stronger — in some cases nearly four times that of the Earth’s magnetic field.,“What happened here is that these rocks were struck by lightning sometime between when they were formed many thousands of years ago, and when they were carved,” Fu said. “Because lightning is an electric current, it produces very strong magnetic fields, many orders of magnitude stronger than normal … and we believe the ancient Mesoamerican people were able to detect these anomalies.”It’s uncertain exactly how they detected the anomalies, but earlier research had turned up evidence that Mesoamericans may have used lodestones — naturally magnetized rocks — for a variety of purposes.“In one case, in 1975, people discovered a hematite-rich bar,” Fu said. “Its purpose was unknown, and it was broken, but it was clearly very carefully made.“If you were to tie it on a string or float it on a piece of wood, it actually could act as a compass needle,” he added. “If the makers of these sculptures had access to a tool like that, that’s one way they could have detected them.”And though the study suggests that ancient Mesoamerican people had knowledge of magnetism and how to detect it, it leaves unanswered the question of why the figures were carved to highlight their magnetism.“The short answer is we don’t have a good idea for the exact reason they did this,” Fu said. “There are some hypotheses which are quite intriguing … that involve digging into why we think people made these sculptures.“Probably the most successful idea is that they might represent some depiction of the ancestors of the ruling elites,” he continued. “The idea is: If you have some claim to power, sculptures of your ancestors with strong magnetic anomalies could appear very impressive to your subjects. The word people use in the literature is that there’s a performative aspect to these sculptures, so when the sculptures deflected a magnetized stone, it would appear as though there was something alive with it, or some supernatural aspect to it.”Ultimately, Fu said, the study offers key evidence that an understanding of magnetism existed in the Americas far earlier than first believed. It uses NV centers to detect them in various directions Related “In the Old World, there was some documentation of magnetism in the Greek world by the sixth century B.C., and the first usable compass wasn’t until centuries later in China,” he said. “To me, what’s really interesting is this is a completely independent discovery. There’s a perception that the Old World is the advanced world and transferred all this knowledge to the New one, but we are realizing that they knew a lot, and I think this is one more piece of evidence for that.”This research was supported with funding from NASA.