The Colgate Scene
July 2003

People on the go

Deborah Feder '95 [Photo by Mary Wigginton]
Honored for energy strategy

Deborah Feder '95 believes there need not be a contradiction between meeting energy needs and protecting the environment. But first, one has to have a good understanding of local energy demand and regionally appropriate renewable energy supply.

"Using the most efficient, cost-effective and environmentally benign resources is common sense," said Feder, an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency's National Center for Environmental Research. "It is possible to provide for energy needs, while conserving fossil fuels and minimizing emissions and other kinds of degradation and pollution associated with conventional energy use."

But Feder also believes it is common sense to adopt a broader focus for energy analysis, expanding traditional economic and technological approaches to include local considerations within a region. This means it would be necessary to study topography and wind behavior in an area before deciding whether to provide for energy needs with fossil fuels or an alternative such as wind power.

"The geographic component is lacking from most energy strategies," said Feder, who majored in geography.

That is the core idea of Feder's doctoral thesis, for which she was recently awarded the 2003 J. Warren Nystrom Award from the Association of American Geographers, an honor presented annually for the top doctoral dissertation in geography in the United States (Feder earned her doctorate at The Pennsylvania State University).

"There are ideas in society that work as barriers against the use of renewable resources. You may have policies that support the use of fossil fuels instead of wind, water or solar power," the Columbus, Ohio native said. "People are generally not aware that renewable resources are capable of providing for household energy needs such as space and water heating or electricity generation because of the many ways the concept of energy is defined and understood in society. For example, you have builders constructing new homes, but not orienting the homes to face southward, which optimizes the absorption of solar thermal energy for heating. There's a whole nexus of factors that act as barriers against renewable resources. I suggest that energy use should be approached from multiple perspectives; a policy perspective, an academic perspective, a technical perspective, a social perspective and so on, and through these perspectives renewable resources will become a more commonly accepted part of the energy discourse."

In addition to a geographic focus, Feder uses a framework called "energy end-use" analysis. Originally proposed in the 1970s, and applied to a limited extent in electric utility management programs, energy end-use analysis looks at how energy is used and attempts to match the use with the most appropriate supply source, seeking more efficient and cost-effective energy use. Such an analysis could, for example, find that a particular water heating need could be met with solar thermal power instead of fossil fuels, she said.

"This is a strategy that minimizes the environmental risks and political and economic vulnerabilities associated with the United States' almost complete reliance on non-renewable resources such as coal and oil," she said. "A consequence of this approach would be higher energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy resources and other appropriate technologies."

Feder believes that incorporating concepts of regional geography and end-use analysis in her strategy would take advantage of nature's characteristics and human ingenuity and adaptability, to encourage a creative and flexible approach to supplying energy.

Feder's interest in energy use began while she was doing field research on deforestation in the sub-Saharan African nation of Malawi, while pursuing her masters degree from the University of Illinois.

"That experience had a tremendous impact on me because fuel wood and charcoal are the primary energy sources in Malawi," she said. "Ninety percent of the population use wood for cooking, as well as for just about every other application, and as a result the country has a very large problem with soil erosion and land degradation."

After returning to the United States, Feder immersed herself in energy literature and was awarded a summer internship at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Photovoltaic and Wind Technologies. That experience guided her dissertation and ensuing fieldwork on renewable energy, along with case studies in Centre County, Pa.

For her one-year fellowship at the EPA, Feder is developing a model of population change and its impact on the environment, with a focus on the five-county Los Angeles metropolitan area. After completing her fellowship, Feder will join the faculty at California State University at Fullerton with a joint appointment in environmental studies and geography.

"I'm very excited about current research being conducted in the renewable energy sector," she said. "I find it very relevant, given events that are happening politically, economically and in the environmental arena. I see renewable energy as being related to all those factors, and I see renewable resources as the wave of the future." -- GEF


James Peyser '78, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, fields questions following a presentation on charter schools and the state's efforts to set minimum standards for public schools, at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. [Photo by Josh Reynolds]
Reformer without apology

As the chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education and Governor Mitt Romney's senior advisor on education, James Peyser '78 makes no apologies for his conservative stance on education issues and policy.

"I staked out a position that is not middle of the road, and so there are a lot of people who are very strongly opposed to what I'm trying to do, and they let me and others know about it," he said. A supporter of private school choice and charter schools, Peyser acknowledges that "my relationships at the association level -- with the teachers' unions and the school superintendents -- are not always friendly, in part because they view the things I support solely as competition for scarce resources."

Despite the conflicts, he's getting things done, and the changes that have been made in the state's education system since his arrival as chairman in 1999 recently earned Peyser a spot on Boston Magazine's list of the most powerful people in the city.

The state's education reform program, adopted back in 1993, had bogged down in the implementation phase for years. Peyser believes that his unusual dual role as both education board chairman and the governor's advisor has facilitated progress.

"I think a big reason has been not only the collaborative relationship that the commissioner [David Driscoll] and I have had," he explained, "but also the fact that the governor has a stake in our work."

In addition to the establishment of subject-specific academic standards and revised teacher certification regulations, Peyser mentioned two significant accomplishments during his tenure thus far: the adoption of a high school graduation requirement based on the statewide Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test, and the fact that Massachusetts became one of the first states to establish a school accountability system that fit the requirements of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

"My overall view of education reform, especially in the context of larger urban districts," Peyser said, "is that a district like Boston, with 120 some-odd schools and 60 to 65,000 young people, cannot be effectively managed out of a central office. In order to achieve the kinds of performance standards that have been set for students, there needs to be a radical restructuring of the districts themselves." He believes that, in rethinking their governing structures, school districts should take a cue from charter schools, which "are a means of breaking down a district into more manageable pieces. Having the management structure closer to where the students and teachers are is more likely to yield better results in terms of learning and achievement." He described the goal of setting up a "tight/loose relationship" where the state and districts establish and monitor specific outcomes while providing as much freedom as possible to individual schools.

Peyser cited the city of Springfield, where several charter schools have been established: "I was with the superintendent this morning. He's working with the teacher's union on a plan for dealing with a school that is in need of a turnaround strategy. They're creating relationships that mirror the kinds of management that exists in charter schools where there's more freedom for local administrators to make decisions about staffing, about programs and about allocation of resources" that will meet the particular needs of their students.

"Those things, if applied on a larger scale, whether they're as a result of charter schools directly or a result of changes and reforms within a district," said Peyser, "have the potential to unlock some of the barriers to higher achievement."

Before entering the education arena, Peyser worked for Teradyne Inc., a manufacturer of electronic test systems, and was director of Export Task Force, a bipartisan congressional caucus on international trade in Washington, D.C. From 1993 to 2001, he was executive director of the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, a Boston-based think tank. His entrée into the Massachusetts government came when Peyser took a four-month leave of absence to serve as undersecretary of education and special assistant to then-Governor William Weld for charter schools.

Of his work today, Peyser said: "It's in an area that engages me personally and intellectually in a way that other jobs I've had didn't. The role I'm in gives me an opportunity to have a pretty strong influence on the kind of policy decisions that are made, and that's an enjoyable thing." -- RAC


Lisa Masotta's sculpture, Child's Nest, was largely influenced by the events of September 11, 2001. The work is on exhibit at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, N.Y. [Photos by John D. Hubbard]

A funny thing happened to Lisa Masotta '87 on her way to a degree in philosophy and religion -- she realized she wanted to be a visual artist.

The New Haven, Conn. native reached that conclusion while traveling to India when she took a year off from college after completing her first two years at Colgate.

"While I was away, one thing that became clear to me was that I wanted to go back to Colgate and finish my degree, but also that I wanted to take some art classes because I had done a lot of drawing while I was traveling," said Masotta, who now lives in the Dorchester section of Boston, Mass.

When Masotta returned to campus as a junior, she decided to enroll in art classes. In order to enroll in upper-level art courses, students were required to complete a basic studio course that, much to Masotta's chagrin, was only open to first-years and sophomores. She appealed to John Knecht, professor of art and art history, to allow her in.

"He said, `Why should I let you in my basic studio class?,' and I said, `Well, I'll work really hard,'" Masotta recalls. "He looked at me skeptically but he ended up letting me in. I really was engaged in the class and I think he could see that and how much I was enjoying it."

Thanks in large part to the encouragement of professors such as Knecht, Lynn Schwarzer and Carol Kinne, Masotta was certain she wanted to continue to study art after graduation from Colgate, but didn't intend to enroll in art school at the time.

"I pursued courses, workshops and internships," said Masotta. "Art school came later, when I needed maximum input in the minimum amount of time."

Masotta moved to Boston after graduation and began the first of a series of jobs working for private social service agencies. After having assembled an appropriate portfolio to enter art school, she entered the Massachusetts College of Art in 1992 to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree. Her opportunity to gain teaching experience came two years later when she began teaching art at the Neighborhood School, a small private elementary school in nearby Jamaica Plain.

After completing her B.F.A. in sculpture in 1996, Masotta continued to expand and exhibit her growing body of work at a variety of galleries, primarily in the Boston area. She also continued to perform and teach cello and piano, as well as direct music and arts programs at local churches. Although seemingly far removed from the path she followed when she entered Colgate, Masotta believes the conceptual framework of her art and teaching is rooted in her time in the Chenango Valley.

"Having grown up in the inner city, as a Colgate student I was eager to explore issues that impact community -- such as power, identity and inclusion -- through courses in sociology, women's studies, black history, world food and hunger and my major, philosophy and religion," she said.

Masotta is especially pleased to have work exhibited at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, N.Y.

"Several years ago, I noticed a call for work from an art park in Cazenovia. It caught my attention because of the park's proximity to Colgate, and because I loved visiting Cazenovia when I was a student," she said. "The art park was founded to promote and exhibit work that explores the interaction of art and nature. I felt in my bones that I had to do a piece there; when I did, it was like coming home."

Masotta said her outdoor sculptures such as Child's Nest, the piece at Stone Quarry Hill, explore the need for "physical shelter and the security provided by a vibrant community." Child's Nest is suspended from a tree in a wooded section near the children's area. It is constructed of large wooden rings woven together with rope, with a side opening through which a person can enter and sit suspended four feet above the ground.

"After September 11, I imagined a hanging nest swaying in the breeze. I later learned that some birds construct pensile nests. In creating Child's Nest, I considered themes of vulnerability, fragility and childrens' need for protection from hostile forces," Masotta said. "The closer you lived to Ground Zero, the starker your sense of vulnerability after 9/11.

"My fellow teachers and I wrestled with how to support our students during terribly uncertain times," she continued. "Two of my Colgate friends witnessed the twin towers collapse; one was on her way to work at the World Trade Center. For several days, I feared she had perished, and all I could think about was her beautiful young daughter and what she might be experiencing. Several days later my friend left me a message indicating that she was okay. Knowing someone who survived that disaster impacted me tremendously. In retrospect, I think it prompted me to build the piece in Cazenovia." -- GEF

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