The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 20, No.1, Winter 2003



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THE POWERFUL PULL of a dynamic campus

Five students bring talent, intellect and enthusiasm to scholarship at UMD

The undergraduate and graduate programs at UMD continue to exert their magnetic force, drawing exceptional students to the campus. In this issue of the Bridge, we profile five students who were attracted to this environment of excellence.

HAZEL RICHMOND
IDA KUMOJI
SHELLEY CHRISTIE
MAGGIE CHO
WILLIS TOMPKINS


HAZEL RICHMOND


Scientists, conservationists, and anglers alike. . . are struggling to find a balance between the demands of the fishing industry and the survival of fish species. These experiences have led Richmond to dedicate her life to a deeper understanding of interactions beneath the water’s surface.

When Hazel Richmond was just five years old, her uncle taught her how to dive and snorkel from the shore. As she grew up, she spent more time on his fishing boat in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod, going out for up to a month at a time.

From these first encounters with the ocean, Richmond has developed a connection to the water that goes beyond simple enjoyment. She feels a deep concern for the ocean fishing industry that is a way of life for many families in New England. With Newfoundland’s cod industry nearly coming to a halt in 1992 because of a lack of fish and drastic reductions of fish populations in New England and Europe, the industry has been in the forefront of people’s minds.

Richmond’s uncle chose to leave the fishing business when his small lobster operation, with under 300 traps, proved to be economically unsustainable. He was faced with price fluctuations and environmental disasters such as the red-claw disease, which affected lobster. Scientists, conservationists, and anglers alike, like Richmond’s uncle, are struggling to find a balance between the demands of the fishing industry and the survival of fish species.

These experiences have led Richmond to dedicate her life to a deeper understanding of aquatic life interactions beneath the water’s surface. She graduated in 1998 from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in Biology, and went on to explore the field of mariculture, or the cultivation of saltwater life in its natural habitat. In the summers, she taught Marine Biology and other courses at the Children’s School of Science in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In 1999, she also took a position as an assistant animal care technician at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. While there, Richmond assisted veterinarians in establishing animal care protocols as well as administering disease treatments and caring for the animals’ day to day needs.

During her time at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Richmond met Allen Mensinger, assistant professor of Biology at UMD. When she decided to continue her education, UMD was a logical choice. “I don’t think I would have made it if I was completely landlocked,” she said. While over a thousand miles from an ocean, the Lake Superior shore and the land of 10,000 lakes has provided new and unique opportunities for Richmond to study the interaction of aquatic life in a smaller environment. In addition to its natural setting, Richmond was drawn to UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory, the Blue Heron research vessel, Minnesota Sea Grant, the Natural Resources Research Institute, and scientists in a number of fields with a special interest in fresh water issues.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to explore her own interests, Richmond has combined two areas of study — fish physiology and ecology — to form a single thesis research project. With two separate fields coming together into one, she has the benefit of two advisors during her research — Allen Mensinger and Thomas Hrabik, both assistant professors of biology.

Beginning her research, Richmond spent the summer at Trout Lake Field Station in northern Wisconsin, collecting not only fish, but also daphnia, the food they thrive on. She joined other graduate students utilizing this facility and often recruited help in her gathering process. Some mornings she rowed herself onto the lake to collect fish on her own. Originally intending to collect the native yellow perch and the exotic rainbow smelt, Richmond was disappointed to find that unusual weather had decreased the smelt population so dramatically that she could not gather enough for her research. With minor modifications, she focused her research on two native fish — yellow perch and walleye.

After creating an intricate system of tanks with a self-contained rotating water supply, Richmond began her research. Separating one fish from the group, she adjusted the amount of light in the tank and added daphnia. She said, “My favorite part of the research is that I’m able to study live, healthy fish.” Her goal is to measure the reaction distance between the fish and its prey under a specific light condition.

Now in her second year at UMD, Richmond has 40 videotapes of reactions, each of which she watches frame by frame in order to pinpoint the moment the fish reacted. When she has completed this part of the project, she will analyze the data and report her overall findings.

With plans to be finished in the spring, Richmond is looking forward to returning home with her new-found knowledge. She has not decided where this knowledge will take her, however. One possibility is working for the whale survey effort, which would entail spending months at a time on the Atlantic Ocean. She may also be able to offer a new perspective in the controversy surrounding the New England fishing industry and declining populations.

While she is excited to return to the ocean, Duluth has gained a special place in her heart. “I’m going to have a hard time going to the East Coast where it’s more populated,” she said. “It’s really special that there is so much wildlife around Duluth . . . . and I’m going to miss it.”


IDA KUMOJI

With her African heritage, Kumoji offers a unique perspective on art, but it’s research
and preparation that make her successful in the classroom. “As an instructor,
it is important to answer any question a student brings to me.
At least, I want to be able to tell them where the answer can be found.”

Ida Kumoji, a student in UMD’s Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design program, is bringing tales about Ananse the spider from Ghana to Duluth. One of Kumoji’s projects is to illustrate the Ananse folk tales that have entertained children in Ghana for generations. She hopes that with her illustrations, she can cross cultural boundaries to share African wisdom with children of all backgrounds.

One story she is working on is “Ananse and the Wisdom Pot.” It’s a simple story but it’s packed with meaning. She told the story using just a few sentences. “Ananse was a wise old spider and people came from every corner of the land to gain wisdom from him. One day, hoping to hide his wisdom from the rest of the world, Ananse placed all of his wisdom in a pot, tied the pot in front of him and climbed a tall tree. As he was climbing, his son saw Ananse struggling with the pot tied to his front and suggested that he tie the pot to his back. Startled that his son had wisdom that he did not, Ananse dropped the pot and the wisdom spread throughout the world.”

Kumoji said “Every Ghanaian elementary student reads about Ananse as a way to learn about Ghana’s history.” Ananse’s behavior is human but he has the form of a spider and lives in a community of animals. He is considered to be wise and cunning, but the spider trickster also teaches the values of the society. Lessons are found in the stories especially when Ananse is motivated by greed and takes inappropriate advantage of others. At the end of such a tale, like “Ananse and the Wisdom Pot,” Ananse is shamed. 

The Ananse stories come from the Ashanti community, who inhabit the rain forest of Central Ghana. Due to the density of the rain forest, the Ashanti are protected from the influences of modernization. Kumoji said that in Central Ghana, “many traditional aspects of life are maintained to this day.”

“Ananse and the Wisdom Pot” teaches children to share their knowledge and that is exactly what Kumoji is doing in Duluth. She first came to the United States in 1997 to attend the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. She used her background in traditional media artwork and her new computer-aided and digitally based skills to achieve her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture and Graphic Design.

While studying at St. Catherine’s, Kumoji visited Duluth. She said, “The way the city was situated on the hillside overlooking the water reminded me of the town where I went to boarding school.” The beauty and familiarity of Duluth drew Kumoji north.

After finishing at St. Catherine’s, Kumoji worked as a freelance graphic designer. One of her first jobs was to design the 2001-2002 Academic Handbook for the College of St. Catherine. She also took on other freelance opportunities, including creating a logo, stationery and a graphic design plan for a new lawn care company. After a year, however, Kumoji wanted to further her education, and UMD provided her the opportunity.

Now in her first year, Kumoji is enjoying UMD. She appreciates the personal attention she gets from staff and faculty. She also has the opportunity to return personal attention to the students she teaches in her Introduction to Art class. With her African heritage, Kumoji offers a unique perspective on art but it’s research and preparation that make her successful in the classroom. “As an instructor, it is important to answer any question a student brings to me. At least, I want to be able to tell them where the answer can be found,” she said. “My base of knowledge is growing as I prepare to teach my classes.”

Like Ananse, Ida Kumoji is sure to touch many people with her unique wisdom and experiences in the years to come.


SHELLEY CHRISTIE


“My degree in English literature enriches my entire life,
but my degree in business gives me the chance to work with people and to help out.
It feels great to be needed.”

Shelley Christie traded the historic Sproul Plaza at University of California, Berkeley for the Ordean Court at UMD, and she’s happy she did it. “Well, maybe the Minnesota cold weather part isn’t the greatest,” she said, “but the training in business and computers will set me up for a career.”

Christie studied English literature at UC, Berkeley, and appreciated her studies for the sheer beauty of the field. However, after she graduated, she felt that a job as a writer “didn’t suit me for a career.”

When Christie’s father took a job in Plymouth, Minnesota, Christie started searching for extra training nearby, and found what she was looking for at UMD. “People say hello to me in the grocery store. It’s like a small town here; all of my professors remember my name,” she said.

Sharon Torrison, assistant dean for student affairs in the School of Business and Economics office, helped Christie pick her classes. “Sharon noticed that I didn’t have many computer skills during our first meeting. I didn’t even know much about the internet.” But that all changed in Christie’s first class. She went from learning e-mail to creating computer programs in a couple of months.

The UMD accounting program has been a good move for Christie. Making it through financial accounting and managerial accounting has paid off. Christie signed up for job interviews during a recent Career Services Job Fair. Accounting firms and other employers from across the Midwest pre-selected who they would interview. “I received a 3.7 grade point average last semester and have been on the Dean’s Honor Role for four semesters, and that might have made a difference in meeting recruiters,” she said. Christie had five interviews at the fall Job Fair and two of the five recruiters made job offers.

“I couldn’t have done it without some wonderful people at UMD.” she said. “Both UMD Career Services and the Accounting Department staff took a real interest in seeing us succeed.”

Christie has landed a paid internship at McGladrey & Pullen next spring. “It’s a great opportunity to work with a local CPA firm and gain real tax preparation experience,” she said. She also accepted a paid internship at Honeywell for the summer of 2003. She said, “I haven’t made that much money since a summer job I had driving a forklift.”

In today’s competitive job market, internships will make a difference in whether a student will land a full-time permanent job after graduation. Christie said she found a balance between something she loves doing and something that will get her a job. She said, “My degree in English literature enriches my entire life, but my degree in business gives me the chance to work with people and help out. It feels great to be needed.”


MAGGIE CHO

“All native people share struggles over land rights and educational opportunities. . .” What she learns at UMD will help her to better represent her people.

When Maggie Cho was a child in Laguna, a village in the mountains of Belize, harvesting rice was a family project. Her parents would wake the children for a 4 a.m. walk to their rice field and give each child a bundle of rice to carry on the two mile walk home. Only then would Cho’s brothers and sisters get ready for school. When classes let out, the children would join Cho’s mother and father, who had been cutting and bundling rice during the day, to bring another load home.

In the rural community of Laguna, Maya people have lived on the land for generations. Cho says that the people of her village still use the land in traditional ways. “They farm, hunt, and fish; they save certain land for gathering medicine,” and designate other land for homes. They share the land to ensure the survival of the community. It is a rain forest jungle, with huge old trees, covered in vines, orchids, and innumerable plant species. According to Cho, “subsistence farming sustains them” and their reliance on the rain forest helps to maintain a beautiful and culturally rich livelihood.

But that way of life is threatened, and the threat is part of Cho’s story. The land surrounding Laguna, while managed by the village, is owned by the Belizean government. Not recognizing any legal land rights of the Maya people, the government has granted almost 10 percent of the country’s total land area to long-term logging concessions. Cho said, “Some members of the community go to work for these companies, but others try to continue the way of life they have always known. This struggle has divided communities and created hardships for everyone within them.” The companies are even violating the generous terms of the agreement by clear cutting, cutting more trees than allowed and destroying streams and wildlife habitat. Cho said that it is a difficult issue to fight, “The government will only stop companies if someone can prove that it has broken the specific guidelines of its contract.”

And someone did. That someone was Maggie Cho’s husband, Julian Cho. He was a friend of UMD English Professor Linda Miller-Cleary, who went to Belize in 1998 to conduct a study on the literacy of indigenous people. She interviewed Julian Cho and seven other teachers at Toledo Community College in Punta Gorda. Miller-Cleary said, “I realized then that Julian Cho was both a remarkable person and the spokesperson for the Maya people with the Belizean government. I had tremendous respect for him and arranged for him to talk with other indigenous people at the International Literacy Conference in Bordeaux, France.”

Julian Cho helped the Maya people file a lawsuit seeking recognition of their land rights against the government of Belize. The lawsuit declared the logging licenses a violation of rights, which caused damage to the environment. It sought to cancel logging and other resource extraction in Maya aboriginal lands and to give Maya leadership negotiation rights. He was killed on his way home from a late night meeting.

Before his death, Julian encouraged his wife Maggie to get a graduate education. She said she was always supported in her efforts to go to school, by her family when she was growing up and later, by her husband. “When other young girls of 12 and 13 were leaving school to start families, my parents encouraged me to continue my education.” That meant Maggie Cho had to go to a government operated high school in Punta Gorda, the city that was nearest to her village.

Cho received her undergraduate degree in Belize and became a social worker. “Belize has the same problems — unemployment, crime, alcohol abuse, domestic violence — that the rest of the world has,” she said. But Cho realized she needed an advanced degree and sophisticated training in order to make more of an impact. “I feel that I’ve been called,” she said. With no graduate social work program in Belize, Cho had to look for this opportunity in another country and because of Miller-Cleary’s connection with Julian, Cho became interested in UMD.

Miller-Cleary and another UMD faculty member, Helen Mongan-Rallis, initiated a UMD student teaching program in Belize. This will be the fourth year that students from UMD go to Belize, and they hope to place students soon in the secondary school near the Maya village that has been named after Julian Cho.

After her husband’s death, Cho’s parents offered to care for their grandchildren, Cho’s two children, so Cho could pursue her social work degree. When Cho made the difficult decision to leave Belize, Miller-Cleary and the College of Education and Human Service Professions made the transition to UMD easy. “Everyone was helpful,” Cho said. “They offered me a Graduate Teaching Assistant Award and my professors have been really, really understanding.” Now in her second year, Cho is planning on graduating in May 2003. She has been the teaching assistant in the Race, Class and Gender course as well as the Global Issues course.

“Of course, so much of the culture is different,” Cho said of Duluth. Despite these differences, she has found similarities that cross the boundaries of the two countries. She has found a connection with Minnesota’s Native American population. She said, “All native people share struggles over land rights and educational opportunities. It has helped me to learn about the strategies and issues of U.S. indigenous people.” Cho understands the importance of the competence she is gaining. What she learns at UMD will help her to better represent her people in Belize. Miller-Cleary believes Cho can do it. She said, “Maggie Cho is a wonderful woman: bright, strong, articulate, personable, and very caring. I feel she will be a real leader for her people.”

With only a semester left at UMD, Cho is anxious to return home. She is excited to see her children again, now ages eight and four. As the first woman from her village to come this far, she is looking forward to helping young people get involved in change. “People have great expectations of me when I go back, and I look forward to the challenge,” she said.


WILLIS TOMPKINS

Tompkins felt he was able to form a bond with the hunters through a mutual respect for their dogs, and in the process, he learned something of the overall history, culture, and language of the
Arawak people.

Willis Tompkins was reviewing graduate programs to find one that would match his particular interests. He’s interested in American Indian culture, and UMD turned up in his survey of universities. Tompkins also has a special curiosity regarding dogs. He had studied dog populations while doing anthropological field research in Venezuela, and he cared for sled dogs in the American West and Alaska. He also shares company with two Alaskan Huskies, and he wanted to find a region of the country that would be sympathetic to that special concern. Duluth and the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race, appeared in his research. Finally, he was looking for a master’s degree program that was self-directed and would allow him, as a graduate student, to pursue his individual interests. UMD’s Master of Liberal Studies surfaced, and Tompkins decided to apply.

Once accepted, Tompkins found himself in the office of American Indian Studies Professor John Red Horse. “When I told him my folks were from Maine, and that I had a strong interest in Algonquan language and culture of the Northeast, Professor Red Horse seemed to smile behind his eyes. He said that UMD had just hired a new faculty member that I should meet,” Tompkins said. The faculty member was Kenneth Mello, a Passamaquoddy and a scholar of indigenous folklore. The Passamaquoddy are an Algonquian speaking peoples of the Wabanaki confederacy of Northeastern North America. Mello had come to UMD from the University of Maine. “When Professor Mello walked in a few moments later, and shook my hand, I realized that I had probably just met my thesis adviser,” he said.

Tompkins says the Master of Liberal Studies program is a perfect fit. It allows the university to showcase faculty members from a variety of fields on a graduate level without locking itself into a rigid masters curriculum. It’s a versatile program that can easily respond to dynamic faculty and student interests.

From Tompkins’ first meeting at UMD, he has stayed focused on the folk lore and culture of the Wabanaki. “I remember climbing Mt. Katahdin in Maine with my folks when I was a kid. Mount Katadhin plays heavily into the life of the Wabanaki,” he said. “One thing leads to another.”

Tompkins originally wanted to start by studying a language of the Wabanaki confederacy, but Mello encouraged him to come at it from another direction. Tompkins said, “Professor Mello feels, I think, that it works best to try and fathom the hearts of a people through their stories. Understanding storytelling to him, is one of the essential keys to understanding peoples’ hearts.”

Tompkins’ road to UMD has taken many turns. He studied anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, both as an undergrad and as a graduate special student. He spent five years, on and off, working with sled dogs in the American West and in Alaska. “When your community is made up of mostly dogs, the world begins to look different. The importance of animals to the life of human beings is something I think the indigenous people of the Americas understood better than anyone … many people here still maintain that knowledge. That’s a big reason for my continuing interests in the indigenous lifeways of this hemisphere.”

Around the next bend Tompkins found himself in a study-abroad program through the School for International Training. His work took him to the Orinoco River in the Venezuelan rainforest where he became somewhat disillusioned with anthropological study. “Living in peoples houses and asking them continuous questions about their religion and eating habits seems intrusive and alienating,” he said. Instead, Tompkins found a project that felt right. His dog sledding mentor from Wyoming had told him that — contrary to current opinion — all indigenous people of this hemisphere, at one time or another, had lived with and used working dogs. Indeed, he found that the Arawak of the Orinoco River were reliant on dogs for their livelihood. They traveled with dogs almost every time they went hunting — using sometimes two or three dogs at once to flush prey from the forest. Dogs seemed essential to their continued success in hunting. Tompkins felt he was able to form a bond with the hunters through a mutual respect for their dogs, and in the process, he learned something of the overall history, culture, and language of the Arawak people.

Through Tompkins’ studies, he has gained great esteem for indigenous people and their cultures in general; cultures that the world today is in danger of losing. Tompkins said of an estimated 4,000 languages in the world today, only 500 or so are likely to be in use by the year 2050. Tompkins feels that each individual language embodies a unique and irreplaceable way of viewing the world. “Language frames the way in which the world exists in a person’s mind,” he said. “Each lost language represents the loss of a whole systematized way of thinking, an entire symbolic perspective of life.” Eventually, he would like to learn an Algonquian language well enough to teach it, if invited. He also is looking into a Ph.D. program, but he isn’t rigid about his direction: “I’m just going to let things come my way and see where they take me.”

— Cheryl Reitan, Heather Ziebell and Amelia Anderson

 

 
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