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Yale Professor Intrigued by Neuroscience at Wabash

Steve Charles—Even if Dr. Fahmeed Hyder’s accomplishments hadn’t grabbed my attention, the classes he chose to visit during his return to Wabash would have.

Since when does a former chemistry major spend most of his time back on campus in psychology classes?

Hyder ’90 spoke to students and faculty in Hays Hall last Friday on “fMRI Basics to Cutting Edge: Neuroscience Boot Camp.”

A professor of diagnostic radiology and biomedical engineering at the Yale School of Medicine, Hyder is the director of the Core Center for Quantitative Neuroscience with Magnetic Resonance at Yale. His noontime talk blended chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics as he helped an audience from an equally eclectic range of disciplines understand this form of imaging that “is changing life science” and has “become the dominant brain mapping technology crucial to cognitive neuroscience.”

And the psychology classes he visited? Courses focusing on neuroscience (where Professor Neil Schmitzer-Torbert has a grant pending from the National Institutes of Health supporting the research he and students are doing in that field). He and Professor Karen Gunther bring an emphasis on physiological psychology that is becoming a bellwether in the College’s increasingly interdisciplinary curriculum.

Fahmeed—who majored in chemistry, minored in economics and mathematics, and took an area of concentration in music when he was a student here—was understandably intrigued by the psychology classes.

“I was trained as a chemist, and I went on to get a degree in chemistry—Wabash taught me exactly the right way to get that degree,” Fahmeed told me Friday on the way to visit with his mentor and Professor of Chemistry Bob Olson. He also noted that the work he is doing now falls far afield of traditional chemistry.

“I think the foundation my education here gave me allowed me to seek and find my own way.”

And his own way now includes disciplines he didn’t venture into during his Wabash days.

“I’m doing a lot of biologically based work, though it’s not what I was trained to do. I didn’t even take a biology course here,” Fahmeed said. “But now that I’ve attended a couple of the neuroscience courses here, I think I would have been inclined towards that. It is an aspect of biology which really brings in all the different disciplines—it brings in a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of physics, even a little bit of engineering.

“It’s an interesting and positive decision to include those courses in the curriculum. It’s a reflection of what is happening in [the sciences] now. Psychologists are speaking with physicists, with biologists—it’s good to have chemistry majors or biology majors take that course, and if the intention of the psychology department is to expand the curriculum, this seems a positive direction.”

We’ll have more on Hyder’s leading edge research in bioimaging in the Spring 2010 issue of Wabash Magazine. (He also recently had his book, Dynamic Brain Imaging, published by Humana Press.)

But I wanted to share his comments regarding this visit. It seems that whenever we’ve brought to campus outstanding practitioners of their vocations, the interdisciplinary nature of most callings becomes ever more apparent—whether it’s writer Jonathan Lethem dissolving the artificial divisions between literary genres (as our own Dan Simmons ’70 began doing decades ago) or chemist Fahmeed Hyder’s work combining biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. The strength and creativity of the College’s faculty in these fields and the value of a liberal arts education to provide the agility to make the connections between those fields seems more apparent than ever, too.

It’s always an exciting time to be learning, but this seems a particularly good one at Wabash. Every time I hear about a new “interdisciplinary course” being offered, I find myself wishing I could be in school again.

A “Shout Out” to the Tech Team

Jim Amidon — Just the other day I was working on a project for a local volunteer organization with a friend of mine. We were writing up a document and I emailed it to him for his review. A few minutes later, I got a return email asking me to send him the same document, but in an older format. Turns out his relatively new computer couldn’t open the file.
 
It wasn’t a big deal and, frankly, it happens all the time.
 
But it did get me thinking about how fortunate I am in my work at Wabash College, where I have the forward-thinking talent of our Information Technology Services team behind me.
 
I’m grateful that I never, ever have to think about technology. I have a great computer, current software, and I operate on a lightning fast network.
 
In fact, the only time I ever think about the technology that fuels my work is when something goes wrong or I make a huge mistake and need help from the IT Services team.
 
That’s too bad.
 
In any organization, there are lots of people or groups of people whose seamless, nearly invisible work goes unnoticed — but without them, we’d be sunk.
 
I don’t really understand HOW the technology I utilize works, but I also don’t take technology for granted. I know how fortunate I am — how fortunate all of us at Wabash are.
 
Not long ago, my office had reached capacity on a server that stores tens of thousands of digital images we have captured over time. I made a phone call to IT Services Director Brad Weaver, who put Quentin Dodd on the project, and in a short time we had been fully migrated to a new, larger server. Presto!
 
Except that I know Quentin didn’t just wave a magic wand and make the new server appear. I know he put in a whole lot of time setting up the server, making sure it worked, and then migrating something like 600 gigabytes worth of digital photographs (roughly 180,000 of them).
 
When we need a new web page, we send an email to our Help Desk. Usually we hear back within minutes that Mark Siegel is at work on the project. And there appears to be no web application we imagine that Mark can’t program his way through.
 
I manage a secure intranet web portal for Wabash’s Trustees. But let’s be clear: when I say “manage” it’s about the same as me saying I “manage” a space shuttle flight. Monica Brainard actually manages it, and she’s earned a spot in heaven for the gentleness with which she’s taught me how to use the system… over and over and over again.
 
All of our administrative functions — from direct deposit payroll to prospective student databases — involve technology, and while I have no idea how any of it works, I know people like Alice Moore, Cathy Tymoczko, and Tammy Utterback keep the information flowing.
 
When I need a software upgrade, it’s typically done for me. When I do have a request, I just shoot an email to Jamie Ross and two days later a student walks in with the software, part, or ink cartridge I need.
 
On the rare occasions when something goes terribly wrong (when I break something), Mike Heinold is quick to solve the problem, fix the broken part, or provide a replacement.
 
When Brent Harris and I had the hair-brained idea to webcast most of Wabash’s home basketball games, we sat down with Brad Weaver (who is a basketball fan) and he talked us through it. Soon after, Adam Bowen, our media specialist, had a plan that included three video cameras, a computerized switcher, and all the hardware to make it work.
 
Now when Brian Shelbourne plays basketball at Chadwick Court, his brother living in Australia can watch him in real time.
 
It’s not magic or slight of hand or easy.
 
Technology requires foresight, planning, patience, confidence, and an inclination for what’s coming next. Our IT Services leadership is wise and thoughtful when considering what’s genuinely helpful and important and what’s a passing fad.
 
All of these examples are just a tiny fraction of the work done by IT Services. There are almost 150 employees like me and all have computers, phones, and printers. There are 850 students using more than 300 public computers and thousands of devices like iPhones, laptops, and Wii gaming systems that batter our campus-wide wireless network.
 
The staff in Wabash’s IT Services may seem to be invisible because their work is so good, but they are also invaluable.
 
Without them I’d be reduced to a manual typewriter and a couple of tin cans with a long piece of string.

Wabash Meets Lake Wobegon

Steve Charles—I was editing the upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine with its focus on men’s health and all I could think about was Garrison Keillor.

The author, humorist, and host of A Prairie Home Companion also hosts The Writer’s Almanac, heard daily on NPR stations across the country. It’s one of my favorite moments of the day, a settling reminder that there have always been people who see contemplation, words, and stories as a way of life, and he signs off with “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

I’d already decided we’d call this issue “Be Well," but thinking of Garrison saying it as both admonition and blessing affirmed my choice. It got me wondering, too, how he might answer the question my colleague Kim Johnson had asked dozens of alumni for this edition: “How do you define well-being?” In other words, I wanted to ask him, “What do you mean when you say, “Be well?”

So I did.

There’s a place on his Web site called “Post the Host” where Garrison answers questions from listeners—some really interesting answers, too. They get a lot of questions and only post a few, but I thought, It can’t hurt to try. So I sent in my question, got an out of office reply back (this was right around Christmas Day), and figured that was that.

Until Math Professor Will Turner emailed me Friday with a link to the “Post the Host” page and Garrison Keillor’s answer to that very question we’d asked our Wabash alumni, students, and faculty. Because I indicated I was from Wabash College, he must have thought I was a student (and I always will be, so that’s fine by me), but his advice is no less relevant regardless of one’s age, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his thoughtful words.

So take a look at this “Wabash Meets Lake Wobegon” moment and Garrison’s thoughtfui answer (and good advice for students young and old). Here’s an excerpt:

"What you hope for in life is a sense of a calling, a vocation, which simply means that one goes to one’s work gratefully, not out of fear or habit but with a whole heart. It’s the whole-heartedness that makes for well-being. Everyone has to live with a degree of doubt and restlessness, but there’s nothing like enthusiasm, especially when you’re 67."

Take a look at the comments, too—a lot of folks had their own take on our question.

And if you’ve got a second, let us know how you would answer that question: How do you define well-being, and what do you do to achieve it?

Just post a comment or send your thoughts directly to me at charless@wabash.edu

And that’s the news from Wabash, where all the students are above average.