Joseph BrunoUAlbany Cancer Research Center to be Built on East Campus
By Greta Petry
State Sen. Joseph L. Bruno and President Karen R. Hitchcock announced September 19 that UAlbany will receive $22.5 million to build a cancer research center on the East Campus.

The center, known as the Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics, will be housed in a $45 million, 125,000-square-foot building. Half the center’s cost will come from the state’s $225 million Gen*NY*Sis science fund. The rest will be provided by the University and private business.

Bruno said, “The new signature building on the East Campus will bring together research and business development in biotechnology and provide a foundation for the long-term goal of establishing a National Cancer Center- designated Comprehensive Cancer Center for the Capital Region. The new facility will be another significant leap forward that will enable the campus to grow and, more importantly, will result in the creation of new businesses and jobs. It will further strengthen the Capital District’s reputation as an attractive region for biotech and high-tech economic development.”

Hitchcock said, “This moment also represents another milestone that affirms the University’s commitment to the principles of strong and innovative cross-sector partnerships in our approach to University research and the region’s economic development. And, as we move forward in our growth as a major research university, we will continue to seek close collaborations with private sector partners, with other institutions in the Capital Region, and with government toward the goal of enhancing research excellence and regional economic growth.”

The president continued, “Indeed, as you all know, we have implemented the concept of ‘co-location’ across a number of our science and technology programs, including nanotechnology and - here on our East Campus - biotechnology. Our University faculty and industry scientists carry out collaborative research not only on the same campus, but within the same buildings - sharing state-of-the-art facilities and equipment and, through innovation and discovery, providing the foundation for today’s knowledge-driven, high-tech economy.”

University Professor of Biology Paulette McCormick, who will run the cancer research center, said, “I’d like to thank Senator Bruno for creating this historic occasion for us.” McCormick, who is the director of UAlbany’s Center for Comparative Functional Genomics as well as the director of cancer genetics for Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center Hospital, said the cancer research building that will be constructed will assure the University’s preeminence in biotechnology and biomedicine, and will stand as “a symbol of hope for all of those who themselves or through loved ones have been afflicted with the dreaded disease of cancer.”

Construction, which is to begin in the spring, is expected to take a year and a half. Upon completion of the building, the center is expected to create 230 new jobs. And this is just “the tip of the iceberg,” McCormick said.

University research scientists will be joined by researchers from the Stratton VA hospital in Albany and Taconic Biotechnology, which already exists at the East Campus. Other firms, such as Smart Gene and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., are likely to seek space in the new building, she said.

McCormick is already at work on projects related to cancer and metastases biology. In one project scientists are studying the use of natural and synthetic derivatives of Vitamin A, called retinoids, in cancer therapy. In another project, “we are investigating the role of cell-surface lysosomal associated membrane protein (LAMP) in tumor progression and metastases - the latter of which cause 90 percent of deaths from solid tumors. We are theorizing that an antibody recognizing cell surface LAMP might very well block metastatic cells from spreading, thereby greatly decreasing cancer mortality.”

Richard Russo2002 Pulitzer Prize-winner Russo a Hit at UAlbany
By Greta Petry
If you’ve never known a Miles Roby, a Mrs. C.B. Whiting, or a Jimmy Minty, you’ve never lived in a small town. Roby, Whiting, and Minty are all characters from Empire Falls (2001, Knopf), which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Its author, Richard Russo, visited the University at Albany on September 25 to hold a seminar and read from his new collection of short stories, The Whore’s Child, as part of the New York State Writers Institute fall visiting writers series. Russo, a native of Gloversville, N.Y., now lives in Maine, the state in which the fictitious Empire Falls takes place.

Attending the seminar on the uptown campus and later that evening at the reading on the downtown campus was University at Albany Professor of English and Writers Institute Exe-cutive Director William Kennedy, who was inducted into the 2002 class of Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on October 5 in Cambridge, Mass. (See UAlbany Update, p. 1, May 9, 2002). Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Ironweed.

In Empire Falls, Russo takes a decent and likeable 42-year-old man named Miles Roby and traps him so thoroughly in small-town life that even the reader feels suffocated.

Intelligent, thoughtful, and considerate, Miles wanted to become a college professor. Instead, he manages the Empire Grill for the wealthy Mrs. Whiting, who vaguely hints at leaving the business to him someday but in the meantime keeps him on such a short string that he’s afraid to ask her if he can apply for a liquor license.

To make matters worse, the overly responsible Miles has a devil-may-care father who spends his time looking for the next free drink and who can’t eat without spilling crumbs down his shirtfront. Max Roby alternately rifles through his son’s glove compartment for money and berates him for being afraid to climb to the top of the church steeple to paint it.

Then there is Miles’s wife Janine, who ran off with the gold chain-wearing, muscle-flexing Walt Comeau, nicknamed “The Silver Fox.” Russo writes, “It was genuinely weird the way Walt had begun hanging out at the grill, a place he’d totally avoided when they were sneaking around.” Walt, a shallow braggart, challenges Miles to arm wrestling at the diner every chance he gets, as if to underscore Miles’s humiliation at having lost his wife.

Russo deftly lays out the story of a small-town community in which everyone knows everyone else and no one has any secrets. Miles can’t step out onto the street without running into the person he least wants to see: Jimmy Minty, the local patrolman who as a boy envied Miles’s more expensive Christmas toys. Jimmy borrowed those gifts and promptly broke them. Echoes from the past surround Miles - in this town everyone remembers every single thing he has ever done, both good and bad. He is almost paralyzed from stepping into the future by the judgments that were made when he was a boy.

While the book deals with tragedy and pathos, Empire Falls is not grim. The story is interlaced with truly funny anecdotes, like the one about the time Miles drove up a front yard and landed within inches of taking down a garage wall while in driver education class.

One woman in the September 25 seminar audience asked Russo how reviewers could call this book funny when it deals with serious and tragic subjects.

Russo responded, “There are various kinds of funny.” He said he laughed all the way through Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, despite the serious issues the book raises about racism and intolerance. The author said a book can be “hilarious and heartbreaking” at the same time. “Comic writers traffic in hope,” he said.

That question about the book’s inherent sadness helped this reader realize that my response to the book had been the opposite: I was so taken by the characters and their quirks, and so delighted by the ironies and humorous predicaments of their lives, that when tragedy struck in the plot, I was stunned. I had gone from enjoying the very realness of the characters to bemoaning the fact that the plot was getting too real for comfort.

Empire Falls also makes a statement about class: This town, a microcosm of middle-class life in which all residents are ostensibly equal, is in reality a small fiefdom ruled by the wealthy Mrs. Whiting.

“Mrs. Whiting had married all that money in the person of C.B. Whiting, who had owned the paper mill and the shirt factory and the textile mill before selling them all to the multinational corporations so they could be pillaged and then closed. The Whiting family still owned half the real estate in Empire Falls, including the grill, which Miles had managed for Mrs. Whiting these last 15 years with the understanding that the business would devolve upon him at her passing, an event Miles continued to anticipate without, somehow, being able to imagine it,” Russo writes.

Throughout Empire Falls, there is an undercurrent of the vast gap in philosophy between the haves and the have-nots of this mythical, yet oh-so-realistic town. In one conversation between Miles and Mrs. Whiting, she asks him why he vacatons in Martha’s Vineyard.

“When not insinuating that he was repressed, the old woman liked to imply that despite his intelligence, his views were parochial, the result of his having traveled and seen so little. Like many rich people, she seemed not to understand why the poor didn’t think to winter in Capri, where the weather was more clement. Nor did it strike her as unfair to suggest as much to a man who for 20 years had tended one of her businesses while she traveled. ‘I’ve got friends who have a house there,’ he continued, leaving unsaid what Mrs. Whiting no doubt understood perfectly well - that only charity made even so modest a vacation possible.”

At the UAlbany seminar, Russo said Mrs. Whiting is the cruelest and most manipulative of all his characters. “Often cruelty is aligned with intelligence,” he said, noting Mrs. Whiting is the most intelligent person in Empire Falls. The only thing she does not understand is selflessness.

Russo is also the author of Mohawk (1986); The Risk Pool (1988); Nobody’s Fool (1993), which was made into the movie starring Paul Newman, Melanie Griffith, Jessica Tandy, and Bruce Willis; and Straight Man (1997). His talk was co-sponsored by the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center.

For more information on the New York State Writers Institute Fall Series, go to http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/.

George McGovern on Campus
George McGovern spoke on October 10, at 8 p.m. in Page Hall on the downtown campus. Now the first United Nations Global Ambassador on Hunger, McGovern spoke on “The Third Freedom: Ending World Hunger in our Time.”

The event, which is free and open to the public, was sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs.

McGovern is a former U.S. Senator from South Dakota who ran for President on the Democratic ticket in 1972 and was defeated by incumbent Richard Nixon. McGovern campaigned on a platform of ending the war in Vietnam. He was reelected to the Senate in 1974 and served until 1981.

Prior to his political career, McGovern received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service as a pilot in World War II. After the war, he earned a Ph.D. in history at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., and taught American history at Dakota Wesleyan University. He became active in the Democratic Party in 1948, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1957-60. No stranger to the issue of world hunger, McGovern was director of President John F. Kennedy’s Food for Peace program from 1961-62.

Fighting Alcohol Abuse through ‘Social Norms’ October 16 Topic
By Greta Petry
H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., an expert on the prevention of alcohol and other drug abuse on college campuses, will be the guest speaker at the University at Albany on Wednesday, Oct. 16, on the uptown campus.

Called “the father of the social norms theory” by the Los Angeles Times, Perkins will speak to professional staff and faculty at 9:30 a.m. in Campus Center 375, and will be available to the media at 2 p.m. in the Center for Environmental Sciences and Technology Management (CESTM) auditorium.

As a professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., for more than 20 years, Perkins has long studied alcohol and other drug abuse problems among college and high school students. His work has focused on uncovering peer misperceptions of how much and how often students abuse alcohol and other drugs.

According to social norms theory, students often misperceive the attitudes and behaviors of their peers around alcohol use in the direction of excessive drinking. Wanting to fit in, these students tend to model those misperceived peer norms. When educated through media campaigns based on survey data about their peers’ actual drinking rates, these students change their behavior to match this healthier norm, resulting in lower drinking rates and increases in healthy behaviors.

The social norms campaign provides repeated messages that reinforce positive behavior and can have an effect on changing community norms. The other change in community norms is to promote an increase in students who confront other people’s alcohol-related behavior. The sense that “that’s what you put up with in college,” even though it interferes with a student’s sleep, study time, and quality of life, functions only to promote irresponsible and harmful behavior.

Even before the recent incidents in downtown Albany involving UAlbany students throwing beer bottles at a neighbor’s home, the University had begun a strategy designed to combat high-risk alcohol consumption among students.

“The presence of alcohol within college life may be a reality for some, yet students often overestimate the amount and frequency of alcohol use by others. This misperception can overshadow the reality of alcohol use and its role on campus,” said M. Dolores Cimini, Ph.D., who coordinated the University’s first social norm grant project, funded by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Cimini is a licensed psychologist and director of the Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program at the University Counseling Center.

According to a 1999 Campus Survey of Alcohol and Other Drug Norms (CORE Institute), while 40 percent of UAlbany students believe the average student drinks alcohol at least two times a week or more, most students (74 percent) drink alcohol once a week or less.

The University at Albany was awarded a social norms-focused Model Program Grant by the United States Department of Education to examine the impact of using peer theater techniques to deliver social norms messages about student drinking rates. Results from this project, which was begun in the fall of 2000, indicate that social norms information delivered to students by their peers through theater performances had a clear effect in reducing reports of student drinking; correcting student misperceptions about peers’ drinking; reducing high-risk behaviors associated with alcohol use, such as fighting, vandalism, and driving while intoxicated; and increasing protective behaviors, which include choosing not to drink alcohol. Results from this grant project are scheduled to be released in a journal article in the Report on Social Norms in November.

Flora Casallas, M.A., CASAC (Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor), the University’s new coordinator for Alcohol and Drug Prevention, is very committed to continuing work in the social norms area. “I would like to use the social norms model to influence the campus culture by targeting incoming freshmen, as they are arriving with misperceptions about behaviors and come to us with previously established attitudes and misconceptions about college life,” she said.

Perkins is director of the Alcohol Education Project at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Yale.

In 1987, he began a project that now tracks more than 1,300 Hobart and William Smith alumni of graduating classes from the 1970s to the 1990s to better understand how their values and lifestyles change as they marry, raise families, and change jobs.