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Celebrating Communitas

Celebrating Communitas
By Camille Minichino

Camille Minichino, Ph.D., GSAS ’65 and ’68
Photo by Charles Lucke
There's nothing like a 200-cm laser, a refrigerator-shaped computer and an airless sub-basement lab to bring people together. All the ingredients were there in Freeman Hall on the Rose Hill campus when the physics and mathematics departments “lived” there in the mid-sixties and early seventies.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) community that grew together through sharing equipment, coffee breaks in the student center and late-night data-taking vigils still meets regularly for reunions, 40 years later.

At our most recent reunion, in August 2007 at the Wappinger Falls, N. Y., home of Helen Hayes (GSAS ’64), approximately 30 of us gathered together, including three of our former faculty members: Alfons Weber, Ph.D., former chairman of the physics department; Joseph Budnitz, Ph.D.; and Joseph Shapiro, Ph.D. (Hmm, I guess they weren't that much older than we were!)

One of our most famous colleagues, Paul Chu, Ph.D. (GSAS ’65), is now president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Paul has come to one of our reunions, and sends his greetings every time. He is internationally known for seminal work in superconductivity and has won some of the highest awards in science. (And this year, on March 28, he’ll be returning to Rose Hill to deliver the Spring 2008 Gannon Lecture, “An Odyssey of Discovery.”)

Our core group includes two Jesuits: Donal MacVeigh, S.J., Ph.D. (JES ’65, GSAS ’68), chair of the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J.; and Thaddeus Birch, S.J., Ph. D. (GSAS ’68), former dean and current director of special projects at the Graduate School of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis.

Three of our members who are fortunate to still live close enough to the Rose Hill campus—Roger Richardson, Ph.D. (GSAS ’69), Joseph Shapiro, Ph.D., and Daniel Vona, Ph.D. (GSAS ’69 and ’79)—have been named visiting research scientists and meet weekly in the Freeman Hall seminar room where we all took our orals and defended our theses. 

Among us are fellows of the American Physical Society, researchers and teachers all over the world. One member, Marilyn Noz, Ph.D. (MC ’61, GSAS ’63 and ’69), is an international commuter, conducting medical physics research at New York University and at the Karolinka Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

We mourn the loss of two of our members: Ron O’Brien, Ph.D. (GSAS ’69), a dedicated science educator, and a kind, wonderful friend to us all; and the lovely Maria Pignataro (GSAS ’65), who was married to our loyal Tom Walsh (GSAS ’65) for 40 years.

As we arrived at Helen Hayes’ home that hot Saturday last summer, even before "how are you," I heard: "Do you think there's enough math in the new Roger Penrose book?" And, "I have some ideas about Lisa Randall's work at Harvard on baryogenesis." Not much has changed since our conversations in the Fordham cafeteria or down in the Rathskeller.

Further examples of how closely knit Freeman Hall residents were: John Schott, Ph.D. (FCRH ’66, GSAS ’67 and ’70) , married Barbara Blaikie (GSAS ’68); and our librarian, Beth Igoe, married then physics graduate student, Jim Klein, Ph.D. (GSAS ’69).

For me, the physics department community was only the beginning. Being a graduate student at Fordham gave me access to a broad curriculum and a stellar faculty. When I could break away from my walk-in spectrograph, I audited courses in theology and philosophy with the late Robert O'Connell, S. J., and Walter Stokes, S.J., and attended liturgy in Dealy Hall with the late George Glanzman, S.J. I also worked with the Sodality to organize lectures from some of the great writers and thinkers of the day, from Harvey Cox to Jacqueline Grennan.

My graduate years shaped forever my life and worldview as a scientist, an educator and a writer.

In 1965, our copies of Huang's Statistical Mechanics cost $10.75.

Our Fordham education—priceless.

Camille Minichino, who earned her Ph.D. in physics at Fordham University in 1968, has enjoyed a long career as an educator, researcher and writer. She is the author of eight novels in the periodic table mystery series, including The Oxygen Murder (St. Martin’s, 2006). She also teaches at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Calif., and is a staff member at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

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