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“A Source of Hope, Strength, and Even Love”: Academic Festival showcases the TC community’s efforts to “Make a World of Difference”

Academic Festival 2017
Nearly 1,000 alumni, students, faculty and special guests gathered on April 8, 2017 for the College’s 9th Annual Academic Festival, “Making a World of Difference.” View our Academic Festival 2017 gallery on Flickr

Hope is the thing with feathers 

That perches in the soul, 

And sings the tune without the words, 

And never stops at all.

There were not many dry eyes as Phyllis L. Kossoff, one of two President’s Medal recipients at TC’s Academic Festival in April, spoke of her daughter Stephanie’s death at age 19 from cystic fibrosis (CF) and her own subsequent work to help create the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Emily Dickinson’s famous stanza (above) was a favorite of Stephanie’s, Kossoff said –and a prophecy of sorts, borne out in the ensuing decades by advances that have boosted average survival with the disease from age 3 to age 40.

“This morning I am honored to stand before you,” Kossoff told a Cowin Center audience that included TC faculty, alumni and newly admitted students for fall 2017. “I know that so many of you have achieved mightily translating hope into that monumental effort – making our society a better place. If I may be counted among you, I am proud.”

TC’s ninth Academic Festival, themed “Making a World of Difference,” drew nearly 1,000 attendees, featured 16 breakout sessions, and, in TC President Susan Fuhrman’s words, powerfully affirmed that “now more than ever, the TC community is a powerful and energizing source of hope, strength, and even love.”

“I know that so many of you have achieved mightily translating hope into that monumental effort – making our society a better place. If I may be counted among you, I am proud.” —Phyllis L. Kossoff

The College is “making a world of difference in three principal ways—in pioneering research, the creation of cutting-edge programs, and in the dedication and engagement of our extraordinary alumni and students,” Fuhrman said. Now it will also take steps to “redesign, reinvigorate and re-establish civic education as an engine for social justice and responsible citizenship.” That effort will be boosted by TC’s Campaign, Where the Future Comes First, which has raised $285 million, Fuhrman announced, or 95 percent of its $300 million goal. With the finish line in sight, Fuhrman, citing Kossoff as a model, called on the extended TC community to give significantly of the “three Ts – time, talent and treasure,” particularly to support student scholarship.

As Fuhrman noted, the day featured another President’s medalist also inspired by a daughter named Stephanie: Cynthia Bissett Germanotta, mother of the singer Lady Gaga and President and co-founder of Born This Way Foundation, which supports the wellness of young people and empowers them to create a kinder and braver world.  “Young people are compassionate, generous and determined to lead lives not defined by personal gain but instead by genuine meaning,” Germanotta said, recalling Lady Gaga’s resilience in the face of bullying that included a website started by college classmates titled “Stephanie Germanotta will never be famous.” She encouraged adults to listen rather than prescribe because “being talked at is inherently disempowering. It’s counter-productive, when we should be preparing young people to step up.”

“Now more than ever, the TC community is a powerful and energizing source of hope, strength, and even love.” —Susan Fuhrman

Another Festival highlight was the first public discussion of Brazil’s National Common Curricular Base – a set of learning standards for primary and middle schoolers unveiled just a few days prior. Chaired by Leticia Guimaraes Lyle (M.A. '11),  founder of several nonprofits in Brazil and developer of a social and emotional learning curriculum that is being taken up by the nation’s schools, the panel focused on lessons Brazil might learn from the U.S. Common Core experience as it begins implementation of its new standards.

Panelist Vera Cabral, an economist who is currently a Lemann Foundation Visiting Scholar at TC, warned that implementation of the new standards will be complicated by three major shifts: from content- to competency-based education; from a model centered on teaching to one focused on learning; and from a status quo of having “no clear definition of what students should learn” to the challenge of having definitions at each grade. Cabral said that to navigate such changes, Brazil – which has more than 5,000 municipalities, 95 percent of which have populations of fewer than 50,000 people – will need to harness the internet, social media and other tools in order to support teachers, parents, students and local officials “to enable them to be owners of this reform.”

TC presented Distinguished Alumni or Early Career Awards to six graduates: literacy expert, author and activist Pam Allyn (M.A. ’88); Arthur Chickering (Ph.D. ’58), creator of the “seven vector” theory of college student development; gender studies pioneer Madeline Heilman (Ph.D. ’72); Tian Ming Sheu (Ed.D. ’93), President of Taiwan’s National Academy for Educational Research; Leticia Lyle, mentioned above; and David Flink (M.A. ’08), Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, which provides mentoring for and by people with LD/ADHD.

“Young people are compassionate, generous and determined to lead lives not defined by personal gain but instead by genuine meaning.” —Cynthia Germanotta

At a special afternoon session, TC Professor of Psychology & Education Derald Wing Sue, a pioneer in multicultural education and counseling, received the 2017 Morton Deutsch Award for Distinguished Contributions to Social Justice. The award is named for the late TC Professor Emeritus Morton Deutsch, who helped create the field of conflict resolution. He founded TC’s International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, since renamed for him. 

Sue has shown that the long-term impact of microaggressions – the everyday and often unintended slights, indignities, putdowns, and invalidations that people of color experience every day – can be more psychologically damaging than overt racism. His books include Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice, the most frequently cited publication in the multicultural field, and the breakout 2010 success Microaggressions in Everyday Life.  

Columbia graduate student Hadia Sheerazi was also honored with a Deutsch Award for her paper “(In)Visible Women: When Sports Arenas Become Battlegrounds for Gender Equality,” an international investigation of public representations and policies around women and girls in organized sports.

Academic Festival concluded with the annual student poster session, at which students present their academic research. This year’s winner (and recipient of a prize of one tuition credit) was Kate Russell, a master’s student in Counseling & Clinical Psychology, whose poster was titled “A proposed adaptation of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-G) for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and in emerging adulthood with role transition or interpersonal dispute problem areas.” Topics at the session were wide-ranging and eclectic, but Cynthia Germanotta would surely have applauded sentiments expressed by one contestant, heath education doctoral student Katerina De Vito,  who will be traveling to Iceland to learn why teens there have fewer mental health problems and less instances of substance abuse than their European peers.

“Whatever they are doing right to lower mental health problems and substance abuse,” De Vito said, “I’ll bring back with me, and I hope we can use the findings to help America’s adolescents became happier and healthier.”

— Joe Levine


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Published Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017