Three UAlbany staff members, Andrew Woodward, a parking services attendant, and resident assistants Stephen Wilder and Andre Williams, were called to active duty, according to the Office of Human Resources. Twenty-eight UAlbany students were called to active duty during the spring semester, according to the Office of Withdrawals and Reentries in Undergraduate Studies.
While Americans followed the developments in Baghdad attentively, at least five people at the University continue to watch the news with a more personal concern. Kathleen Spawn of the Office of the President; Janice Cook of Academic Affairs; Donald DelManzo, Jr. of Facilities Management; and Christine McKnight of Media and Marketing have a son or daughter (in DelManzo’s case, both) serving in the military. Janice Green of the Office of Human Resources has a nephew who is a Navy diver now training at Pearl Harbor, awaiting deployment.
DelManzo recently heard from his son and learned that Joshua, 29, a captain in the Army’s 10th Group of the Special Forces, is near Mosul in Northern Iraq, in what was once the ancient city of Ninevah. His daughter, Brietta Walker, 27, of San Diego, Calif., is a CH-53 helicopter pilot and Marine captain on the U.S.S. Essex (LHD2), a Multipurpose Amphibious Assault Ship, which is moving between ports from the Philippines to South Korea.
Walker happens to be serving on the same ship as Spawn’s son, Shawn Murray, 20, of Guilderland, who graduated six months early from high school in order to join the Marines. Murray is now a corporal with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. He may be due for a major birthday party next year, since he spent his 18th in boot camp, his 19th in Okinawa, and his 20th on the U.S.S. Essex.
McKnight’s son, James McKnight III, 24, of Schuylerville, is a first lieutenant and platoon leader with Company A, 3rd Battalion, of the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, Ga. McKnight has not been told of her son’s whereabouts but surmises from a recent news account that he was probably in western Iraq the first week of April, because three members of his company died there in a car-bomb explosion. The bombing occurred at a checkpoint as a pregnant woman jumped from the car, screaming. Unless part of the company was sent elsewhere, McKnight believes her son was there.
Cook’s son, Andre Forfa, 21, of Niskayuna, is a private first class in the Army, 10th Mountain Division, serving in Kuwait. His wife Lindsey, who is also in the Army, is still based at Fort Drum in Watertown.
“We were told they made it there (to Kuwait) OK,” said Cook, whose son is a mechanic in the radar unit. She calls her daughter-in-law every few days to see if there is any new information about him.
Green’s nephew, Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher K. Stearns, 24, of Latham, is an expert in underwater demolition and construction. He may be assigned to remove mines or repair ships underwater.
Family members sometimes wait weeks to glean information about where their loved one is deployed.
“It’s hard not knowing where they are,” said Spawn, who has not seen her son in 18 months. She heard from him recently, after waiting a month for news. “If you know where they are, it gives you some reassurance even if they are in a dangerous place. I hated not knowing. The only way I handle this is by praying daily, and I have a wonderful church group. I also have friends who are in the same boat. And I have my faith.”
Several of the parents said the first week was the hardest.
“Now I am sleeping much better at night. While I am pleased that Shawn is in a safe position, I feel bad that so many others are in the middle of it all,” Spawn said early in the second week of April.
After Spawn and DelManzo realized their children are on the same ship, DelManzo said he’ll e-mail his daughter and have her look up Spawn’s son. “She (Brietta) is very motherly, and she bakes great cookies. I told her to kick the cooks out of the kitchen and make everyone a big batch of cookies,” DelManzo said.
Cook, who had not heard from her son in four weeks, said, “It helps to find friends like Kathleen and Chris. It really helps. I have other friends who are praying for him. And my own church.” The Sunday School at her church, Bacon Hill Reformed near Saratoga Springs, is collecting supplies to send to the troops.
Still, she said, “It’s really hard. You don’t stop thinking about them - every minute they are on your mind.”
Asked what helps her cope, McKnight said, “I remind myself that my son is with a group of highly motivated soldiers who are among the best-trained, best- equipped, and best supplied soldiers in the Army. There is a whole group of people like him who are functioning beautifully as a cohesive unit. He really has a lot of faith that carries him through tough times. Still, I could use a little more information. I haven’t been sleeping very well.”
Cook said it helped her to focus on memories of her son growing up. And some of those memories are shared with friends, like Green, who remembers that Cook’s son was born on Green’s birthday.
Writing letters helps parents stay connected to their offspring.
Said Spawn, “I am able to write to Shawn, and in my letters, I remember the day he was born. I share those memories with him. If he were here in person, under normal circumstances, he might say, ‘Mom, puleeze,’ or roll his eyes. But he seems more receptive because of the situation. In my letters I reinforce how important he is to me and how proud I am of him.” Letters can’t always be sent, as some parents wait for addresses. As of April 8, McKnight was still waiting. But that didn’t stop her from jotting down notes to her son about family life and everyday occurrences. She is saving those letters up for the day she receives that address.
Break in Haiti
Instead of partying on the beaches of Florida or living it up in Cancun, these 10 UAlbany students were swinging pickaxes on a mountainside, readying the soil for vegetable seed. This mountainside garden will be a source of food for 48 children who live at an orphanage in Fondwa.
According to Bričre, the trip was “a unique opportunity to see behind the veil created by the media when it comes to developing nations. Haiti is always depicted as ‘the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,’ as if that says it all!” In written material she provided to students prior to the trip, she noted, “You will see firsthand that in spite of poverty, people can be very creative. You will see what ordinary peasants are doing to develop their own community. When you come back home, you will see things differently: guaranteed!”
The students were from diverse backgrounds. They ranged from Fadja Robert, who was born in Haiti, to Jonathan Griggs, who had never traveled outside the U.S. before. The group was a mix of undergraduates, like freshman Saphire Moran, and graduate students, like Vadivel Kumari, who is working on a Ph.D. in information sciences. Kumari’s research will connect information technology to rural development in Third World countries.
In order to join the trip, the students paid almost $1,000 for lodging, meals, seminars and classes, and airfare from JFK airport to Port-au-Prince. They had to be hearty enough to do a great deal of walking, since there is no motorized transportation in Fondwa.
They also had academic goals to keep in mind. After seven days of living in a rural mountain village and keeping a journal during the trip, they were required to do a research paper on an aspect of Haitian life. They also came up with a development project that could be implemented in Fondwa, as well as a fund-raising project that would benefit the village, all of which were to be turned in by April 30. In return, they will receive three academic credits.
The students describe how the trip changed them, on Bričre’s Web site at: http://www.albany.edu/faculty/ebriere/HaitiTrip.
“It was far more jolting to return to the U.S. than to arrive in Haiti. Haiti is a foreign country,” noted Rita Pasarell, 20, a psychology major and junior who had never been outside the U.S. before. “I expected it to seem as such. I didn’t expect the U.S. to seem just as foreign upon return...Leaving the airport, drivers honked and seethed in minor traffic (snarls), all in such a rush. Assuming they were all basically safe, well fed, and secure, I mused at just what they were rushing for . . . It’s almost like we supplant our destinations with the process of rushing: We are always in a hurry to get to the next place (and) don’t notice we have arrived.”
Bričre noted that “perhaps most importantly for the short term, students who at UAlbany do not share the same ethnic, cultural, or racial origins, learned to value their common humanity, rather than distinctions that lead to de facto polarization back home.”
Also participating in the trip were Asante Shipp, Anne Lotito, Joseph Strong, and Kyle Conway. Shipp is a freshman biology major who wants to go to medical school. She had some experience abroad, having traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, before.
“I love engaging in other cultures and I learn firsthand that the dynamic, strong individuals I meet are so much more than ‘peasants,’ ” she said. Lotito joined the trip because her master’s thesis in English is about the Haitian author Edwidge Danticat. She is also in the Department of Women’s Studies master’s program.
Lotito previously spent one month abroad in Central America.
For Kyle Conway, a student from New Paltz, the trip was his second outside the U.S. “I am excited about visiting the first black republic,” he said before the trip.
Before he left, Strong, a freshman, said, “I am really interested in this trip and want to gain all that I can.”
Clean drinking water, sources of energy, food staples, superstitions and education, women’s health and the education of girls were among the issues the UAlbany students considered on their trip. They practiced Kreyol (English spelling, Creole), the official language of Haiti, so that they could communicate in daily seminars and with villagers. They also sought solutions to the imminent food crisis in the village, whose bakery had to close when the cost of fuel for heating the ovens became prohibitive.
The influence of the trip did not end with the students’ return home. Shipp’s experience in Haiti was so positive that she is now making plans to return to the village of Fondwa this summer to work on women’s health issues (the focus of the project she took on for the course).
Her professor said, “When we were shopping for Haitian art in the lovely old colonial city of Jacmel, Asante bought a painting of a traditional Haitian birthing scene and proclaimed that it would be the first thing she would hang in her waiting room when she becomes an M.D.!”
Robert, who will be conducting research on the French and African origins of Kreyol, will teach a pilot course on Haitian Kreyol this fall. The results of her research and teaching will form the basis for her senior honors project.
As Jennifer Humiston, an English major and junior from Saratoga Springs, expressed it, “Taking people out of their normal context is really cool - it lets you get to really see them as people - not as ... something else. A type of person, maybe? Anyway, I loved our group. We all came together on this trip, showing that we all definitely do have something in common.”
Students Donate for Life
This is the second year that the Department of Communication has run a public awareness campaign on organ donation. In collaboration with the New York Alliance for Donation, the department has offered undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to participate in Communication Campaign Practicum, a semester-long class involved in creating and carrying out a public information campaign.
Carla R. Williams, executive director of the New York Alliance for Donation, was enthusiastic about the continued interest and success of the UAlbany project. “This project provides creative learning through implementation of student ideas, as well as an opportunity to spread the word about organ and tissue donation. We have found that there is support for donation, but many people don’t know that there is an opportunity for donation, nor how to do it. This class provides the mechanism for students to educate their peers while providing a social service to the greater community.”
After two months of learning about organ and tissue donation and event planning, students kicked off their campaign at Fountain Day and spent the following weeks talking with their peers in the dorms and around the Campus Center about the importance of organ and tissue donation and discussing their wishes with their families. The students completed their campaign with an April 30 event complete with a speaker on organ procurement, a raffle, and the opportunity for all who attended to add their names to the registry.
“We are truly impressed with the initiative that the students have shown to educate their peers about the importance of organ and tissue donation. Thanks to their efforts, students of diverse social and ethnic backgrounds will have an opportunity to learn how they can make a difference to the thousands who await the gift of life,” said Sue Cain, public relations specialist for the Center for Donation and Transplant.
There are 480,000 names in the New York State Organ and Tissue Donation registry, with more than 81,000 individuals on transplant waiting lists. The goal of the campaign was to educate people about the donor registry, the facts of organ and tissue donation, and how to communicate the mechanics of becoming a donor. (To sign-up online, see www.health.state.ny.us under “Life: Pass It On”). The campaign also stressed the importance of sharing any decision with family members, and of not assuming that signing the back of one’s license is enough.
“This year’s class designed a campaign that was very student-oriented, emphasizing public service announcements on the UAlbany radio station, working with student clubs and associations, and saturating student dining halls,” said Teresa Harrison, chair of the Department of Communication. “This was quite different from last year’s campaign, but just as successful, underscoring the originality, energy, and commitment of UAlbany students.”
“This campaign is about more than money. It is about providing this region and all New Yorkers with a great research university committed to the public good. The kind of university you and your children and your children’s children deserve. The kind of university we can be proud of. A university that is transforming our region even as it transforms itself. I hope you will join us in building the next great public university, by making this the most successful fund-raising campaign in the history of public higher education in New York.”