Autism article brings forth wide variety of alums working in field

One thing I’ve always known about autism is how it can connect people. The article “A Spectrum of Possibilities” that ran in the winter issue of the Quarterly triggered a wave of reconnections and some new alliances for me with Wheaton alums from over four decades.

Some are touched by autism as parents and family members. Others are professionals and advocates working for and with those on the spectrum.

For example, Deirdre “DeeDee” Briggs Phillips ’78 is executive director of the Boston-based Autism Consortium, an extraordinary network of leading scientists, physicians, patients and families working together in the search for innovations in the treatment and the science of autism. Barbara “B.J.” Bikofsky Cataldo ’79, as assistant superintendent for the Milford, Mass., public schools, is responsible for choosing programs for children with autism. Jo Ann Simons Derr ’75, president/CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers, has recently published The Down Syndrome Transition Handbook, a resource also well received by families of children with autism. Elizabeth Fay Russell ’88 serves as admissions director at the Cotting School (Lexington, Mass.) for children with a variety of special needs. Matt Lieberman ’92 works as a care coordinator for Brockton Area Multi-Services, Inc. Christopher Abildgaard ’00 is a Connecticut-based school psychologist specializing in autism spectrum disorders and social cognitive interventions. Elizabeth Bland ’08, an aspiring speech and language clinician, wrote from Hawaii of her adventures as a treatment teacher using applied behavior analysis with young children on the spectrum. Mary Howard ’85, who wrote the Quarterly article, even blends her writing career with classroom instruction of elementary school students with autism.

Many alums, including those with children on the spectrum, asked to be connected with the alums featured in the Quarterly. The article, in fact, has created a new virtual community for me and for these alums. Some of us are even fantasizing about an on-campus Wheaton alums-in-autism meet-up—a “cocktails and connecting”—someday!

—Professor of Psychology Grace Baron

Essay about Middle East visit needed counterpoint

Nearly two weeks after receiving the spring 2011 edition of the Wheaton Quarterly, I am still angered and upset at the inclusion of Gail Sahar’s article on her summer program in the Middle East. At the very least, you should have also solicited a more informed and less biased article to act as a counterpoint. I’m sure there is someone on the Wheaton faculty who has also traveled to the Middle East and has a very different point of view.

For starters, Dr. Sahar refers to the West Bank as the occupied Palestinian territories. Currently, Israel occupies significantly less land area than it had at the creation of the modern state in 1948. The map accompanying Dr. Sahar’s article clearly shows the land that Israel has ceded in an effort to make peace with its neighbors. And let us not forget that immediately upon the declaration of Israel independence, numerous Arab countries declared war. Israel has been fighting the Arab world ever since, and never as the aggressor.

Dr. Sahar seems to feel that Israel’s “separation wall” was constructed to irritate and inconvenience the Palestinians. It is, in fact, a much-needed security measure. She should recall some recent history when suicide bombings were much more common and American visitors were discouraged from traveling on public transportation. The day after I received the Quarterly, there was another terror attack in Jerusalem. It is a cliché to say this, but the Israelis do not strap bombs onto the backs of teenagers and detonate them in public places.

Yes, many Palestinians are indeed impoverished. There has, however, been a lack of accountability for the billions of dollars in aid that has been funneled to the Palestinian Authority since its creation in 1994. It is widely believed that much of the money has been lost to corruption. Upon the death of Yasser Arafat, it was rumored that his personal fortune amounted to over one billion dollars (US).

Like Dr. Sahar, I have family roots in Palestine. My great-grandfather was an ardent Zionist who moved his family from Lithuania to Jaffa. My great-great-grandparents are buried on the Mount of Olives. When my widowed great-grandmother brought her children to New York in 1914 to visit her eldest son (who was then attending Columbia University), the family was stranded here by the outbreak of World War I. On my most recent visit to Israel in 2008, I was privileged to finally meet some distant relatives from a branch of the family we believed had been lost to the Holocaust. They somehow managed to escape Europe in the early 1940s and make their way to Palestine. They are proud to be descended from men and women who fought for Israel’s independence.

While some Palestinians most surely are, as Dr. Sahar states, “people…trying to live normal lives…,” so are the Israelis. Many people have noted that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It is vital for us, as Americans, to support and encourage that remarkable country.

—Alice Grackin McNamara ’76

Art, science link goes way back

I would like to comment on President Crutcher’s Convergence column that was in the spring issue of the Quarterly.

He is absolutely right about the important link between the arts and the sciences in understanding the world from various perspectives.

That link has deep roots at Wheaton. I am a graduate from the Class of 1942. I entered Wheaton in 1938 as a member of a group following a course of study called Elementary Composition of the Arts (ECA). There were 10 of us chosen to be in this group. We were chosen because we were interested in the arts. The idea was to acquaint us with the elements of art that are common—rhythm, symmetry, repetition, color. We studied architecture, dance, music, poetry, painting and other subjects. The things I learned have stayed with me for more than 70 years.

I majored in zoology because I found it interesting and I minored in art because I loved it.

(By the way, I am really impressed with the recent design of the magazine.)

—June Daisley Lockhart ’42

Thanks for perspective on education

I just received the spring Quarterly, and read with great interest President Crutcher’s column on STEAM and the value of cross-disciplinary education.

As a philosophy major about to graduate (15 years ago this May!), I had no idea about what profession I would find interesting and engaging, and had very few prospects. After kicking around the country for a few years, working in some interesting fields, I started working for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District in California, and became involved in the ongoing efforts to protect buildings from the devastating wildland fires that occur annually in California.

After being promoted to fire inspector, several interesting and engaging opportunities to engage the full range of my “cross-disciplinary” education developed, including computer-based fire behavior modeling, GIS mapping projects, public policymaking and ordinance adoptions, enforcement, and “pure science”–based research with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The great honor of serving as a co-chair for CALCHIEFS, Fire Prevention Officers Section, Wildland/Urban Interface Committee, allows for working with counterparts throughout the state on innovative approaches to a very complex series of risks and hazards.

The critical thinking, analysis of ideas, and the application of ideas to the political and policy areas of thought stand out as the main value of my training in philosophy, even though I am a peace officer for a major metropolitan Fire Protection District in code enforcement.

Now I am married, with two beautiful children, and I’m a proud Wheaton grad, who may possibly provide some reassurance to just-about-to-graduate philosophy majors worried about predictions of burger flipping threatening to become reality.

It is very nice to be able to demonstrate (at least part of) what President Crutcher said: “While each discipline is powerful in its own right, the arts and sciences are far more than the sum of their parts, when combined.” Fifteen years ago, nervous in the Dimple, I was wondering exactly what the past four years qualified me to do, and now I know: Think, digest all types of information, and process it meaningfully.

Please extend my thanks to President Crutcher for the perspective on my four years at Wheaton, and the 15 years since.

—George “Geordie” Laing ’96

Another a cappella group to note

Every so often I go to my mailbox and find a reminder of a time when I was young and carefree. I always take the time to peruse the Wheaton Quarterly, reading it cover to cover, and I am constantly amazed at how much the campus and especially campus life has changed since I left in February 1992. Typically I’m searching for old faces. By the time I reach the back cover, I’ve immersed myself in memories (sweet and otherwise) from 1989 to 1992.

I was oh so pleased to see the article “Wheaton a cappella: The melody lingers on.” It was great to read about the exploits and successes of the Wheatones, Whims and Gentlemen Callers. I would like to note that Wheaton also had a gospel a cappella group called Imani. I distinctly remember how it began. Take three ladies with alto, soprano and tenor voices, add a common background in gospel music/choirs, top that with some serious talent, and you had Imani.

Imani performed all over campus, including at concerts and at off-campus engagements. From a humble beginning, Imani grew into a well-organized, talented group of women that enjoyed gospel music and sharing that love with others.

—Tyhessia McCabe

Code breaker comments:

Another code-breaking challenge
The encrypted code we included in the spring Quarterly was too easy for many of you to break. So Professor of Mathematics William Goldbloom Bloch has offered another, more challenging one:ULIKI   LUVHH   LIYIF   NYVIT   PIZFH   GSVXL   MMVXG   RLMYV   GDVVM   ULLWZ   MWIVO   RTRLM   RHGSV   HGFUU   LUHXS   LOZIH   SRK

Hint: It is standard practice to group encoded letters in clumps to make a message harder to decrypt.

If you know the answer, write us: Wheaton Quarterly, Wheaton College, 26 E. Main St., Norton, MA 02766, or e-mail us at quarterly@wheatoncollege.edu.

The Quarterly arrived today, with its fascinating article about the code breakers.

Being a French major/almost math major, I couldn’t resist the encrypted phrase…. I was about to call it a night when—boom! That phrase is all over our house here in Maine: on (among other lesser things) glasses that were a wedding gift from President Prentice, a magnet on the fridge, a plastic change purse, a lovely glass paperweight, and most notably the 50-year-old Wheaton felt pennant hanging on the wall behind me here in the study. A great motto… so true in my life!

—Lorna Brookes Russell ’64

I have broken the code!…. My first job was at the National Security Agency at Fort George G. Meade, Md., from 1964 through 1967, so I do have an advantage. I graduated from Wheaton in 1987, where I went full time as an adult continuing education student. I loved every minute of my years there.

—Linda Fox ’87

This code has plagued my thoughts since I first read it on Sunday. I had strong hunches about what many of the words are (hunches that eventually turned out to be validated), but it was the last word that was really giving me trouble.

I whipped out my (limited) python coding knowledge from computer science with Professor LeBlanc and scoured the dictionary for patterns, but nothing matched. Only two words fit the pattern, “invariable” and “insatiable,” but neither worked when substituted into other parts of the code. At this point I thought, there must be some dirty trick like the phrase was in Latin, and in desperation I wrote a quick program that would let me visualize substitutions as I made them. I started filling in the words I strongly suspected JCWJ had to be “that” and CWKT had to be “have.” Then, like a flash of lightning, it happened! And I felt very foolish staring at the motto of my school.

It turns out I shouldn’t trust a random dictionary to have every word—if “abundantly” had been in it, things would have been over quickly! So, while I should have guessed the answer before I started decoding, I made some connections, put my liberal arts education to use, and had some fun along the way. Thanks for the article and the challenge!

—Alexander Friberg ’10


Another code-breaking challenge

The encrypted code we included in the spring Quarterly was too easy for many of you to break. So Professor of Mathematics William Goldbloom Bloch has offered another, more challenging one:


Hint: It is standard practice to group encoded letters in clumps to make a message harder to decrypt.

If you know the answer, write us: Wheaton Quarterly, Wheaton College, 26 E. Main St., Norton, MA 02766, or e-mail us at quarterly@wheatoncollege.edu.