March, 2023 Update

A Letter of Thanks:

Professor Andy Dobson wrote the following email messages, with the photos below them, to the outgoing and incoming Teaching Initiative Chairs, Bob Wright and Skip Rankin, on the occasion of the completion of the course that ’72 supported and that he taught during Spring semester of the 2022-23 school year.  The course was “Mutualism and Symbiosis”, offered in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department (see October 28, 2022 Memorandum on the Teaching Inititiave below for more information). 

February 23, 2023 - Morning

Dear Bob and Skip,
Greeting from Panama where I've just wrapped up teaching the new course on "Mutualism and Symbiosis" which was very generously supported by your gift to the college's 250th Anniversary Fund.
We had 18 students in the course and we've all been living in an old schoolhouse on the banks of the Panama Canal.
The class was the first in a sequence of four courses that juniors and seniors take during their spring semester in Panama.  We have just started the second three-week course on "The Ecology and Evolution of Tropical Parasites", which dovetails very nicely with the new course.
This year's group of students are exceptionally bright and motivated, they all became fanatical naturalists during their enforced lockdown during Covid.  I think I can honestly say we have more naturalists from Princeton this year than we have had in the entire proceeding decade.  The course focused on a balance between core lectures introducing underlying concepts and quantitative frameworks in which to study, mutualism and symbiosis and their role in structuring tropical forests.  The students were then required to develop a two-week individual research project as their primary form of assessment in the class.  They produced a phenomenal array of projects that ranged from looking at the impact of lichens and epiphytes on leaf efficiency, studies of the communities of beneficial fungi that live inside leaves and protect them from pathogens, the role of hummingbirds as pollinators and different ways that plants can manipulate their behavior.   The class often worked from before 7.00 in the morning till 10.0 at night.  They learnt a lot, asked smart and insightful questions and generally had an excellent time.
None of this would have been possible without your generous gift - many thanks from all of us.
I've attached a couple of pictures and will send more as I find time to download them.
Best regards and many personal thanks.
Andy Dobson

February 23 - Afternoon

Hi Skip and Bob,
I'm totally delighted you like the pictures and can show them to your class.
The students down here will be even more delighted.
I've attached a couple of additional photographs and pasted in some descriptions.
All best and again many, many thanks from a very grateful professor and 18 very smart and happy students.

Andy’s photos and notes about them:

In the first picture, Misha Kummel '23 is enticing a hummingbird to an artificial feeder, this method would form the basis of more subtle experiment to understand pollinator behavior.   As a footnote I taught Misha's father, Miro Kummel '92, when he was an undergraduate.

The second picture shows the assembled students after a visit to the canopy tower on Pipeline Road.

Mae Kennedy '24 is featured in the 3rd picture, dropping a weighted needle from different heights to test the 'toughness' of leaves with and without mutualists on and in their structure.

In the fourth picture, Janice Parks '23 and Julie Tierney GS '24 (Teaching Assistant) explore the forest with Autentico, an elder from the local river people who is an expert on medicinal plants. They are collecting plants to discover if their potential pharmaceutical properties are driven by symbiotic fungi that live within the leaves and roots.

The fifth picture is a class picture attached to a giant liana which lives in symbiotic and parasitic association with its host trees.


In the sixth picture, Mae Kennedy, Sophia Richter, Josefina Zuloaga, Kenya Ripley-Dunlap, Kojoo Baidoo and Julian Gottfried take a pause while searching for figs to dissect.




October 29, 2022

To:                   Mike Schneider
From:               Bob Wright

Re:                   Class of 1972 Teaching Initiative

After 23 years, we have now supported 25 courses (including two years’ support of one course).  A complete list of those courses is attached to this memorandum.  

Our payout for fiscal year 2022-23 is $53,034, which was made available in July for spending on the courses we are supporting this year.    As of March 31, 2022 our fund had a book value of $256,850 (essentially the original funding) and a market value of $1,364,910.  (The latest Endowment numbers were due out from the University yesterday but have not yet been received; this memo will be updated for the record to reflect those numbers when they become available.) 

We are supporting two new courses for 2022-23, each to be offered in the spring semester, as follows:  

(1)              a new course for the Junior Seminar Program in Panama entitled “Mutualism and Sybmiosis”, taught by Andy Dobson in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department with Mark Torchin (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, STRI) and other STRI faculty.  As background, the Junior Seminar Program’s current course on parasitism is being split into two sequential courses, parasitism and mutualism (mutualism focuses on relationships where both species benefit from their interaction: pollination, seed dispersal, protection).  The new mutualism course will expand access to the Junior Seminar Program and allow students to delve more deeply into this pressing and relevant set of questions in the field, while also drawing on the expertise of researchers at STRI, where the program is based, with the goal of ultimately encouraging more students to become tropical biologists.

(2)              a course taught by Robert S. Fish in the Computer Science Department entitled “Special Topics in Computer Science-Web3:  Blockchains, Cryptocurrencies, and Decentralization.”  This course was newly offered in Spring 2022 to fill a significant curriculum gap.  It had a large enrollment and waitlist.  In addition, the field is new and radically changing in real time (technically but also in economic, policy, and legal terms).  Because of these factors, a new and improved iteration of the course is being offered this year.  The new version benefits from significant revision and retooling – including more developed lectures, guest speakers active in the field, new active learning activities and problem sets, and the use of newly-identified open-source tools and platforms that can be leveraged for final projects.

Funding for these courses was $26,937.50 and $17,937.50, respectively, totaling $44,875.  The Dobson course has a second-year funding requirement of $4,000 should we choose to support it again next year.  

With this report, I conclude five years of service on the Teaching Initiative project.  I now turn things back over to Skip Rankin and thank him and all of you for the opportunity to shepherd this wonderful ’72 project – still unique among all Princeton classes.  




(Fiscal Years 2000-2022)

(1)             a course entitled “Conservation and Biodiversity, Science and Policy for an Endangered Planet”, taught by Andy Dobson of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, together with The Woodrow Wilson School; 

(2)             a British history lecture course (as reorganized), taught by Professor Frank Trentmann of the Department of History;

(3)             a vertebrate biology course offered by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology;

(4)             a freshman seminar entitled “Sound, Image, Movement, Meaning: Collaborations in Multimedia” offered by the Department of Music; 

(5)             a course on “World Literature” offered by the Department of Comparative Literature as a “gateway” course to the Department and to the study of literature generally;

(6)             a course offered by the School of Engineering and Applied Science to demonstrate the fundamental connections among engineering, math and physics; 

(7)             a course offered by the Department of East Asian Studies to convey to Princeton undergraduates an appreciation for the study of Chinese, Japanese and Korean civilizations; 

(8)             a course offered by the Center for African American Studies, entitled “The Civil Rights Movement in the United States”; 

(9)             a freshman seminar entitled “Transformations of an Empire: Power, Religion, and the Arts of Medieval Rome; 

(10)          a course offered by the School of Engineering, Department of Electrical Engineering entitled “Networks: Friends, Money and Bytes.”  This was an inter-disciplinary and foundational course and the pioneer course offered by Princeton online, under arrangements with Coursera; 

(11)          a course taught by David Spergel ’83, Charles Young Professor of Astronomy and Chair, Department of Astrophysical Sciences, in Fall Semester 2013 and entitled “Imagining Other Earths.” This course, based on a freshman seminar, was offered as a Coursera course, and introduced students to a range of key concepts in astronomy, physics, chemistry and evolutionary biology; 

(12)          a course in the Department of Comparative Literature taught by Maria A. DiBattista entitled "Modernist Portraits: Literature, Painting, Photography, Film";

(13)          a course in the Department of Sociology taught by Miguel A. Centeno and entitled "Discipline."  This course used ethnographic fieldwork and historical evidence to examine the concept of discipline as a technique through which it is possible to achieve skills, expertise and existential peace; 

(14)          a course in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering taught by Egemen Kolemen entitled "Engineering the Climate: Technical and Policy Challenges." 

Students studied the science, engineering, policy and ethics of climate engineering;

(15)          a course taught by John Danner of the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, entitled "Designing Ventures to Change the World" which was offered as an interdisciplinary, hands-on, immersive opportunity to design services, technologies, products and ventures addressing the UN's 17 new Sustainable Development Goals; 

(16)          a course offered by Alison Isenberg from the Department of History and Purcell Carson from the Woodrow Wilson School that examined Trenton in the 1960’s, race, the economy and media representation. Students made video sketches using archival sources and interviews and the course resulted in a work of historical scholarship, a documentary film and a public event;

(17)          a course entitled “Foundations of Engineering I: Mechanics, Energy, and Waves”, taught by Claire Gmachl in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and melding the classical, inward-looking Physics I curriculum with outward-looking global grand challenge material, with the aim being to empower freshmen to combine fundamental knowledge about the world around them with their desire to solve societal problems and doing good;  

(18)          a course entitled “Disability Studies, The Disabled Body”, taught by Gayle Salamon in the Department of English and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, analyzing the social decisions that surround and define the bodily experiences of disability and explore the premise that these decisions create a “social construction” of the disabled body in the sense that what becomes labeled as a disability is a social decision and not merely a biological fact; 

(19)          a course entitled “Public Speaking” taught by Tamsen Wolfe in the Department of English, considered a “Gateway Course” available to freshman and sophomore students to help them develop the critical skill of public speaking;

(20)          a course entitled “Foundations of Chemical and Biological Engineering” taught by James Link in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department providing exposure to concepts that students will explore in greater depth later in the department’s curriculum and introduce them to exciting developments occurring in chemical and biological engineering. 

(Supported twice)

(21)          a course entitled “Integrating Industrial Applications in Thermodynamics” taught by Professor Lamyaa El-Gabry in the Engineering Department (the first engineering course students take, seeking to introduce students to the applications as well as the theory).  

(22)          a course entitled “What Is A Classic?” taught by Professor Joshua H. Billings, a new gateway course in the Classics Department expanding the concept of a Classic by countering traditional exclusivity and proposing a new, forward- and outward-looking approach.

(23)          a course in the English Department entitled “Democracy and Education” taught by Professor Gorän Blix, examining the relationship between education and democracy in Western nations since the French Revolution through a study literature and social science, asking how schools prosper and fail, emancipate and discipline, and exclude and assimilate.  

(24)          an interdisciplinary course entitled “The Future of Reading” taught by Efthymia Rentzou in the French and Italian Department investigating the ways we read now and in the future along with the cultural, social and cognitive remifications of our reading habits.  

(25)          a course entitled “Optimization: decision-making in the age of computers” taught by Bartolomeo Stellato teaching how to solve decision-making problems with modern computing technologies, with students implementing these techniques on insightful practical examples, and featuring a wide range of applications in data science, supply chain finance, trasporation and robotics.  This was a core curriculum course in the Operations Research and Financial Engineering Department in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.  





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