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Dr. Megan Bruck Syal ’07 on planetary defense and liberal arts

My classmate Megan Bruck Syal works on how to defend the Earth from incoming planetary debris. In this new video, she does a backyard experiment about how the porosity of the asteroid would affect the way a projectile impacts it.

I’ve set the video to start at about the 8:30 mark, where she talks about majoring in astrophysics and mathematics in college, and also emphasizes the importance of all of the other courses — literature, history philosophy — that are an essential part of a liberal arts education.


A million dollars a year in textbooks

Just received this request for a donation to Williams:

Dear Diana,

Did you know that Williams provides a book grant to cover all required texts and course materials for students receiving financial aid?

Prior to 2010, financial aid students would queue up before dawn with the hopes of borrowing textbooks from the 1914 Library. For decades, the 1914 provided financial aid students access to textbooks without having to purchase them outright. […] All of that changed in the spring of 2010: no more standing in line, no more choosing courses or majors based on the availability of textbooks. Since 2010, the Alumni Fund has made it possible for the college to help purchase approximately $7.5 million in textbooks for financial aid students. […]

Perhaps you’d like your Alumni Fund gift to buy the books for students taking “MATH 150: Multivariable Calculus” this semester. (You can read more about the course here.)

Thank you so much for all you do for Williams!

Lisa Russell-Mina ‘79
Co-Chair, Alumni Fund


  • It’s 2018, and 50% of Williams students (so, about 1000 per year) receive financial aid. By my calculations, that means Williams is spending about $1000 per student per year on textbooks. Wow! That seems like a lot.
  • I appreciate their suggestion to check out Math 150, since I was the one teaching it three semesters ago. In fact, I wrote my own materials and printed them out for the students for free. I wish more people would do the same.
  • Knowing that my hundred dollars might go towards half of a $200 textbook actually makes me less likely to send a hundred dollars to Williams. Financial aid, wholeheartedly yes! Textbooks, hard no.

Some problems I wrote about Mount Greylock, the Mountain Day T-shirt, Cricket Creek farm, and the Williams Outing Club are below the break. The whole textbook is here.

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NYT: Multiracial students face quandary on college apps

David has often written posts about the boxes that college seniors check in the “race” category on their application to Williams College. The New York Times has a recent article on the subject:

“I just realized that my race is something I have to think about,” she wrote, describing herself as having an Asian mother and a black father. “It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it. My mother urges me to put down black to […] get in to the colleges I’m applying to,” added Ms. Scott … “I sort of want to do this but I’m wondering if this is morally right.”

Within minutes, a commenter had responded, “You’re black. You should own it.” Someone else agreed, “Put black!!!!!!!! Listen to your mom.” No one advised marking Asian alone. But one commenter weighed in with advice that could just as well have come from any college across the country: “You can put both. You can put one. You’re not dishonest either way. Just put how you feel.”

The article examines many parts of this complex issue. Here is an observation that hadn’t occurred to me:

Some scholars worry that the growth in multiracial applicants could further erode the original intent of affirmative action, which is to help disadvantaged minorities. For example, families with one black parent and one white parent are on average more affluent than families with two black parents. When choosing between two such applicants, some universities might lean toward the multiracial student because he will need less financial aid while still counting toward affirmative-action goals.

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Chaffee ’09 4th at U.S. road mile championships

When we last saw our hero, he was breaking the four-minute mile, running 3:58.8 indoors. Last Thursday, Macklin Chaffee ’09 was fourth at the U.S. road mile championships in Minnesota. In this video, he is on the right side of the screen, wearing white:

With about 1/4 mile to go in the race, three guys take off and separate themselves from the field; Macklin beat everyone else in the race, but couldn’t catch the three of them, who ended up on the podium. Macklin reflected:

In the race I remember seeing it string out on the right side of the field (I was on the left) but I took a few seconds to decide to react and that was the difference of 10 meters plus the 5 meter jump they had before I recognized the move. […] My body’s signals still caused me to hesitate and not really start pushing until we got to that downhill. Once on it, I flew by the 4 guys I was with and set my sights on the breakaway pack of three. I honestly think I recovered a bit on that downhill and really felt good once it leveled off with 200 to go. […] I sincerly believe that last 200 would have been about the same even if I had pushed earlier with those guys before the downhill. The consequence of not going with them will be that I have to settle for 4th.

On the one hand, 4th is awesome! I won $800 and beat a lot of really good guys. But at the same time I didn’t give myself an opportunity to win, and in a race like this, with nothing but maybe a little cash on the line, this is the opportunity to throw yourself at the competition, assert your confidence in your fitness, and really give the other guy your best shot. I don’t feel like I did that today and that has me melancholic (Yes it’s a word. I looked it up).

Fourth place may well be the best a Williams runner (or athlete in general?) has placed in a national championship, at least in recent memory. Jenn Campbell ’05 was ninth American at the 5k road championships in 2010. Macklin is training for the Olympics, aiming to be one of the top three Americans in his event (the 1500m or 800m) by 2012.


CGCL VII: President Garfield’s Address

I chose to discuss Harry Garfield’s 1908 speech because I lived in Garfield house one summer at Williams, and because his father James Garfield is the only American president to have come up with his own original proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. I’m happy that Garfield’s chosen topic was, “What is the chief end of the American college?” because it is quite an interesting question.

Garfield’s answer is that “the chief end of the American college is to train citizens for citizenship.” I am not surprised that Garfield was concerned with students’ becoming good citizens, not only because his father was President (presiding over all citizens), but also because as teenagers, Harry Garfield and his brother watched in horror as their father was assassinated (by a bad citizen).
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Satterthwaite’s contract not renewed?!

I have just received the following news about Sheafe Satterthwaite, beloved eccentric lecturer in art history:

Sheafe’s contract has not been renewed for the coming year. Sheafe is 71 and has taught at Williams for over 40 years. He has always been a Lecturer on a four-year, renewable contract. This year, citing low student evaluations, he was told in late November that his contract would not be renewed.

For those who aren’t familiar with him, Sheafe is independently wealthy (at least, is rumored to be — ed.) and teaches because he enjoys teaching. All of his courses include a once-weekly “field seminar,” where he drives the class around in a large van to areas of interest in the countryside around Williams, and lectures while driving. He also takes all of his students out to dinner (in groups) at least once, and often invites them to his house. Rumor has it that he is paid something like $1 for the four-year contract, and Williams throws in free lunches at Driscoll (this last part is true; Sheafe told me).

Would you please consider writing a letter to the Dean of Faculty, Prof. William Wagner? His email is I think a lot of us never expected we would need to write such a letter — perhaps we thought we might show our appreciation at a retirement party someday. But we do need to write now and explain how Sheafe has influenced our lives, our teaching, our careers, our ways of understanding the world. We need to tell the administration about the gifts Sheafe gave us and continues to give students at Williams.

This missive comes from Mark Livingston ’72 and Belle Zars ’76. Full message from Zars below the break.

Sheafe’s classes are certainly some of the most unique at Williams, and when I look back at the experiences in class that I remember most from college, Sheafe’s class was certainly one of the most memorable. Please consider writing in on his behalf.
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Photo ID, #129

Here is another photo taken on the Williams campus. Where was it taken? And what recollections do you have of this location?

(Originally posted here; link contains puzzle answer.)


Photo ID, #128

Here are two views of a building on Williams’ campus. Which building? And what do you know about the history of the symbols?

(Originally posted here and here; links contain puzzle answer.)


Photo ID, #127

This is the second post in my new Photo ID series, which is a reprise of my original 2005-2007 Photo ID series. I will be posting them in the original order, except omitting the ones I don’t like. So, here we go with today’s picture:

Where was this photo taken? What memories do you have of this location?

(Originally posted here; link contains puzzle answer.)


Photo ID, #126

From 2005-2007, I posted a popular series of Photo IDs on EphBlog. In the coming months, I am going to be running the series again with the same pictures, each Monday. Some of you may have seen them before; most of you will be seeing them for the first time.

Here’s how it works: I post a picture, taken at Williams (or occasionally in the surrounding countryside). You (1) tell where this picture was taken, and (2) share any memories you have of this location, and discuss whatever it reminds you of. Sound good? Let’s start.

From what vantage point was this photo taken? (Hint: David Kane actually asked me to take this photo. “Can you go to such-and-such location and take a picture of the view out the window?” he asked. And I did.)

(Originally posted here; link contains puzzle answer.)


A Williams puzzle

One of my friends, a Williams alum, got married last weekend, and for a wedding gift a group of my friends made a “puzzle hunt.” A puzzle hunt is a collection of puzzles where the answer to each one is a common word or phrase, such as CALIFORNIA or RADIO FLYER. My job was to create a Williams-themed puzzle, so I thought I’d share it with you. Please try it out, and have fun! (Thanks to ’05 for providing a 2005-era map.)

It was my first day at Williams, and my JA was giving our entry a tour.

“Since everyone could ostensibly need differentiating and integrating skills, we’ll start this tour at the math department. Be careful, though, because you might end up spending a lot of time here…” Our JA started leading us across campus, but I felt pulled to that building, and I was dragging my feet.

Subsequently: “Everyone, come on! Now, don’t get confused, but in this building there’s nothing on the first floor. To get to the books, you have to go up the stairs to where the computers are, and then you can either go back down to the archives and movies or up to the regular books. Make sense?” Enough of the academic buildings; I wanted to see the student center. We walked across the grassy lawn.

“First-years, it’s really sad to admit, but this building, beloved by students, will be torn down within the decade. Here on the main floor is the snack bar, and upstairs is the dining hall.” We left that building – too soon! Just as it would too soon be taken from us! – and headed for the Frosh Quad.

“Fittingly, it’s first-years that’re housed in this dorm, whose name is not terribly creative. This building has six vertical entries, labeled A through F. It’s the mirror image of Sage Hall.” Despite my JA’s constant chatter, I couldn’t stop thinking about math. I asked him if there was any way that students could continue doing math in the summer. To answer, he led us way to the outskirts of campus.

“Employment is guaranteed here! This house, every summer, is full of students working in the SMALL undergraduate math research program. The house is named for the only president to have graduated from Williams.” With that, we walked all the way to the other side of campus to visit what my JA called his favorite dining hall out of the four available on campus.

“Food! It’s really something that’s quite important,” he explained (I think it goes without saying). “The Dirty D serves three delicious meals a day, and is frequented by students called Odd Quadders.” Thinking about dining in a place called the Dirty D with these allegedly odd people made me nervous, so I inquired about on-campus spiritual guidance. Our JA led us across the street to a very tall stone building.

“Seeking enlightenment’s very easy now! This here chapel is home to the best choir in Williamstown. Many different religious groups meet in this building, so you can pray to whomever you prefer.” I was getting tired now with all this walking, so I inquired about nearby sources of caffeine.

“Food is really secondary to coffee in the morning for some people, and if you’re one of them, you’ll appreciate our coffee bar, which is a former chapel. Go on in – it’s open all day, even right now.”

And then, the next thing I remember, I was regaining consciousness in the Thompson Health Center. I couldn’t seem to remember how I got there or why. Funny.

Note (not part of puzzle): Please give others a little while to work on it before giving away the solution in the comments. Thanks!


Do you have the old map?

I’m looking for a Baxter-era map of Williams. The current campus map has the pesky addition of the north and south academic buildings, plus the switching of Paresky for Baxter. It doesn’t matter to me whether the map has the new theater or not. Does anyone have one? I will post the fruits of my labors on EphBlog after I am done with my project.



Photo ID, #125

Recent alumni and current students have an advantage on this one:

Photo from Flickr user Marco P. Sanchez; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).

What two buildings are pictured here?


Photo ID, #124

A beautifully artistic shot, including my favorite trick, reflections:

Photo by Flickr user nathan2375; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).

What building is this? (And why does it look so… sinister?)


Photo ID, #123

This is such a nice picture, with geometry and good composition — and in addition, it’s purple! What more could you want?

Photo from Flickr user 10mmm; original photo here (link does NOT contain puzzle answer).

Where was this photo taken?


Photo ID, #122

Another gorgeous, colorful Photo ID:

Photo from Flickr user Skunkworks Photographic; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).

Where is this beautiful place, and have you had the chance to go there? For what?


Photo ID, #121

A very colorful photo — but of what?

Photo from Flickr user stenz; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).

Thanks to former EphBlog webmaster Eric Smith ’99 for this beautiful picture.


Photo ID, #120

One of Williams College’s legacies, of which many students (and alumni) are not even aware.

Photo from Flickr user Pictophile; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).

So, what is this, where is it, and why? (Full explanation in picture link.)


Photo ID, #119

Truly an iconic campus location.

Photo from Flickr’s Williams College pool; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).

Where is this beloved place?


Photo ID, #118

Where is this nondescript tiled area?

Photo from Flickr user Marco P. Sanchez; original photo here (link does NOT contain puzzle hint this time!).

What I like most about this picture is that there is a little teeny tiny hint that gives the location away (at least for me). Do you see it?


Photo ID, #117

Not on the Williams Campus, but very nearby:

Photo from Flickr user dougtone; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle hint).

A strange little building, not unlike this previous strange little building Photo ID. Where (and what) is it?


Photo ID, #116

Wow, cool lighting! Where is this?

Photo from Flickr user williamscollege; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).
I’m embarrassed to admit that I only went there once, maybe twice. How about you?


Mika Brzezinski featured in “I’m a Runner”

Each month, Runner’s World magazine publishes an interview with a celebrity who is also a runner. This month, it’s Mika Brzezinski ’89! (Recall that Runner’s World’s editor is David Willey ’89.) Here’s what Mika says about Williams:

Brzezinski: I’m running as we speak. I catch up on a lot of my phone calls for work this way. I know how to monitor my breathing, so I can have a complete conversation with no problem.

Runner’s World: How did you start running?
Brzezinski: My family was always active, and our thing was family walks. Not walks around the block, but more like eight-mile hikes up mountains. I eventually got into horseback riding. In high school, my two older brothers ran track. They’d come home sweaty and mud-covered, and I could tell they enjoyed it. So I started running—I ran a mile down the road and back again—and I haven’t stopped since.

Did you join the track team?
I competed at Williams College [in Massachusetts] in the 3000 and 5000 meters. I loved the open space and hills there, especially a 10-miler to a place called Five Corners.

For the full interview, click the link above. At the end, she mentions that she’s covered 3.5 miles during the interview. Wow!

Hat tip: A fellow Williams ’07 runner linked this on Facebook. He points out that her 10-mile loop is also known as “43-7” (since it is along those two state routes) and that there are much nicer places to run around Williamstown.


Photo ID, #115

What dorm/house at Williams features this lovely dormer and chimney?

Photo from Flickr user 10mmm; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).
And wow, just look at that ivy!


Photo ID, #114

In what Williams building will you find this shadowy hallway?

Photo from Flickr user 10mmm; original photo here (warning: link contains photo answer).
Any of four answers will be accepted… though we will be impressed if you get it right on the first try.


Photo ID, #113

Where is this nice porch? Have you ever been there?

Photo from Flickr user ledges; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer)
This building has somewhat of a cult following. Stories, please!


Photo ID, #112

Clearly a building, but which building is it?

Photo from Flickr user stenz; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer)

Thanks to EphBlog’s webmaster Eric Smith ’99 for taking this cool photo.


Photo ID, #111

An instrument unique to Williams:

Photo from Flickr user Alan Cordova; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle hint)

Where was this photo taken, what is this object used for, and most importantly, what is your favorite kind of hat?


Female-to-male ratio now 55:45

Most interesting snippet in this month’s EphNotes?

Williams admitted 1,200 students out of 6,633 applicants–an 18 percent acceptance rate. Of accepted students, 659 are women and 543 are men, bringing the female to male admit ratio to 55:45.

I think I have heard that Williams, like most other schools, has a policy to accept female and male students in the same proportion as those who applied. So from this we deduce that 55% of applicants were female. However, this could (will?) create a significant gender imbalance at Williams.

I seem to recall arriving on campus in fall 2003 and learning that our class (’07) was the first class to have a 50-50 gender balance; all previous classes had more males than females. I found this interesting because I had also been a member of the first 50-50 class at Phillips Exeter, four years earlier. I am somewhat surprised that it only took seven years to go from 50-50 to 55-45.

This is a reflection of a larger trend, of more females pursuing higher education than males. Here is (fluffier but more recent) background from the NYT and (less fluffy, less recent) more background from the NYT on the trend of more females than males in college.



Photo ID, #110

This picture was suggested by an EphBlog reader and Photo ID enthusiast:

Photo from Flickr user Josh.A; original photo here (warning: link contains puzzle answer).

The questions this time are:
(a) What is pictured here?
(b) Where did the photographer stand to take this picture?

Thanks to Josh Ain ’03 for taking this lovely photo and for recommending it for use as a Photo ID. More recommendations, please! You can send me photo suggestions at 07djd.


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