Print + Digital Reporting
Michael Lemonick has marked many seasons in Princeton. He was born and raised here. He’s watched the winter turn to spring year after year. And when he talks about the weather, it’s not small talk.
For three decades, Lemonick has been one of the nation’s eminent science writers, notably for Time Magazine, for which he wrote more than 50 cover stories. In November, he became the opinion editor at Scientific American. And in between, he spent seven years as the senior science writer at Climate Central, the Palmer Square-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research and media organization that employs climate scientists, researchers, fellows, and journalists.
Lemonick knows it’s been a warmer winter. But, he says, that doesn’t mean we should assume this year’s milder temperatures are due to climate change — especially since last year’s winter was quite cold.
“The fact that it’s warmer this year than last year? No. That has nothing to do with climate change,” he says. “The fact that, on average, it’s warmer in every state in the winter than it was in 1900, and that it’s been steadily rising? Yes, that has everything to do with climate change.”
Princeton Alumni Weekly. | Web Story. | December 16, 2015.
On Dec. 7, in front of a full-house audience of star-struck undergraduates and artsy locals, David Zabel ’88 spoke from a stage that supported the early days of his career — literally. It was at 185 Nassau, the longtime home of the arts at Princeton, that he spent hours and hours at late-night rehearsals and intensive writing workshops.
Once he discovered the theater at Princeton, Zabel said, his other interests (history, for example) quietly faded away. It snapped his future into focus.
“I was interested in a bunch of different things,” he said. “It was just theater that embraced me — earliest and most fully.”
Zabel is now an award-winning television writer, producer, and director. He wrote more than 45 episodes of ER, the medical series on NBC. He was the showrunner of ER for the program’s final five years, and he was also the showrunner and executive producer of Detroit 1-8-7 and Betrayal (both on ABC).
Princeton Alumni Weekly. | Web Story. | November 18, 2015.
Outside Daniel Velasco ’13’s classroom window at the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Ind., stands an abandoned building with boarded up windows. But the view doesn’t bother Velasco — his focus is on his students, not his surroundings.
“I absolutely love all of my students, even those that make me want to pull my hair out,” Velasco said with a chuckle. “The greatest lesson I have learned from them is patience.”
This is Velasco’s third year at the charter school. During his first two, he taught full time as a Teach for America fellow. Velasco taught AP United States history, AP world history, economics, government, and world history. He has also tried to build relationships with his students, and to connect with them as a mentor.
“When I teach my kids, stay after school with them, and host tutoring sessions during breaks, I think about the teachers that did that for me,” he said.
On a windy night in September, Tracy K. Smith — cloaked in an elegant gray frock that was wrapped in a mysteriously tidy way, as if by magic — was the picture of a professor. A sea of eager undergraduates set their phones to “silent” and tucked their pea coats, book bags and pumpkin spice lattes under their seats. Alone in the front row, Smith sat quietly, listened intently. And then, as if lit by a lamp from within, she warmed up, smiled and walked to the podium.
Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, memoirist, and professor of creative writing at Princeton University, had been invited to be the keynote speaker for the Princeton University Women’s Mentorship Program’s annual kick-off event. Under the gothic chandeliers of Mathey College’s Common Room, Smith unfolded her notes and began.
“In my first years as a teacher,” Smith said from the podium, “I wanted to feel solidarity with my students. So, I completed the assignments I gave them. I wrote what they wrote.”
Princeton Alumni Weekly. | Web Story. | October 28, 2015.
In September, John Oakes ’83, a veteran book publisher based in New York, returned to the Princeton campus for “Careers Beyond Wall Street,” a panel sponsored by Princeton Progressives. He described a shrinking industry that is, well, still stuck in the Stone Age.
“I think going into book publishing — certainly the traditional side of it — is tantamount to apprenticing yourself to a potter. Or a stone carver,” he said.
Book publishing is “quaint, time-consuming, frustrating, and occasionally thrilling,” he said — and it’s in the midst of a massive transformation.
As the co-publisher at OR Books, an independent press that sells e-books and paperback books direct to readers, and prints on demand, Oakes is shaping that transformation, one book at a time. In the coming year, Oakes also plans to re-launch The Evergreen Review, a groundbreaking literary magazine, with Editor-in-Chief Dale Peck.
Web: September 16, 2015. Print: October 21, 2015.
Meru, a Sundance Audience Award-winning white-knuckler of a documentary, follows three elite mountain climbers on their quest to conquer the 21,000-foot summit of Mount Meru, the most technically difficult peak in the Himalayas. It’s a death-defying expedition into sub-zero temperatures that involves extraordinary risks.
But the mission that climbers Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and Jimmy Chin share is not only physically grueling; it’s emotional. Meru tests their friendship, and their relationships with their families back home.
No one knows this better than Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00, who co-directed and co-produced the film with Chin. The directors fell in love through the making of Meru, and they married in 2013. Now, they split their time between the Upper East Side of New York City and the big blue skies of Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Princeton Alumni Weekly. | Web Story. | September 30, 2015.
Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 gets emotional when she recalls her first land stewardship trip at the D&R Greenway Land Trust, an 18,000-acre land preservation and conservation nonprofit. It was an invasive species removal job in Hopewell, N.J. That day, the dangerous plant that her team tracked down, cut back, and destroyed — the climbing growth that covered, choked, and threatened to kill a tree — was English ivy (Hedera helix).
Perched on a picnic table outside the Johnson Education Center, a historic barn overlooking Greenway Meadows, Wiprud mimes how she removed the ivy, grabbing the vine with her hands as if it were a snake coiled around her neck. By clearing the ivy away, she says, “We can give the tree its life back.”
Ivy might look quintessentially Princeton, but as Wiprud is learning, the non-native plant climbs and grows so fast that it smothers other plants and starves trees of sunlight.
Princeton Alumni Weekly. | Web Story. | August 26, 2015.
Patrick Ryan ’68 doesn’t do “art speak.” But he does know how to command the stage at an auction, rattling off antiques and art at break-neck speed to the highest bidder. Last Saturday, at the historic Benjamin Temple house and dairy farm in Ewing, N.J., where he was born and raised, Ryan auctioned off more than 80 items in 2 1/2 hours under a blazing hot sun — all for charity, to support the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.
Ryan has led a life of talking fast and moving faster. A long-time art collector and gallery owner, Ryan is just as comfortable in overalls and work boots as in seersucker shorts and a polo shirt.
He reckons he somehow “inherited the Irish gypsy gene,” a drive that rattled against the quiet rituals of his father’s 166-acre dairy farm: rising at 4:30 a.m. to milk 50 cows, twice per day. “The cows don’t care if it’s Christmas,” he remembers.
Princeton Alumni Weekly. | Web Story. | August 12, 2015.
Gavin Black ’79 has devoted his entire adult life to studying, performing, teaching, and recording 17th- and 18th-century keyboard music. But he knows that studying Baroque music on antique instruments isn’t an easy sell.
“The harpsichord is not remotely as popular as the piano,” he laughs from a bench at the Princeton Early Keyboard Center, the non-profit music studio he founded in 2001. It offers harpsichord, clavichord, and organ lessons for students, composers, and group classes.
Black discovered the organ and harpsichord at age 14, after a stint taking piano lessons left him curious about Baroque music.
As a freshman at Princeton, he would practice the organ alone in the vast and empty University Chapel, lit only by moonlight, courtesy of a special access key.
Megan Connor is a budding film buff. She's headed to the New York Film Academy this fall, and she's also a member of the nonprofit Princeton Garden Theatre on Nassau Street. She believes in movies. Even older ones. But she’s not convinced that the classics have any bite left — even Jaws.
“Jaws isn’t going to be scarier on the big screen — it’s like 40 years old!” Connor, 18, rolled her eyes with a playful smirk in the lobby of the Garden Theatre on June 25. As a Millennial, Connor was raised on easy, 24/7 access to small screen entertainment. At the Garden Theatre, she's learning to love old movies — but with a filter of ironic nostalgia, because "classic" is cool, and "vintage" is hip.
Planet Princeton. | Web Story. | July 23, 2015.
“It’s a popular venue. You just gotta sing clearly for the grandmas in the back.”
In the balcony of the Nederlander Theater on 208 W. 41st St. in New York City, after a Saturday preview matinée, Michael Dean Morgan talks easily over the clatter of mic checks, an active orchestra pit, and a tour below. Even the noise of a yodeling voice warming up backstage doesn’t faze him.
Student Reporting (Princeton University)
Princeton Traveler. | Web Story. | September 30, 2015.
“Adventure is worthwhile in itself."
Amelia Earhart knew that "adventure" is a verb, and that adventuring is itself enough.
As I left Princeton, I steadied myself for my journey: I planned to enroll in an intermediate-level German course at the Freie Universität Berlin, and then use my language skills to facilitate my work as a genealogist’s research assistant, where I translate and transcribe the family histories of German and Polish Jews. Besides awaking 45 minutes late, dousing myself in hot steam (due to an improperly set espresso machine), losing my way and asking for directions (twice), and ripping my new white dress, my first day at my summer course was a success. The afternoon's placement exam set me at one level above my initial plan, and the following four weeks turned into a rigorous schedule of daily homework assignments, weekly writing assignments, two essays, two oral presentations, a large group project, and two exams. The experience was incredibly immersive, as I worked hard to make every word from my mouth be a German one. The course was a challenge, and I knew that it was exactly where I needed to be.
It was not only the six hours in the classroom every weekday that transformed my German. Thanks to the torrent of chatter in the U-Bahn (Berlin's subway), the talkative passerby in smart footwear and leather bags, and the Wurst and Döner vendors shouting on the street, I learned the language through experience, through osmosis. In a city as busy as Berlin, I learned to speak quickly, and firmly, and loudly — through living there, my fluency became stronger, and more confident.
The Princeton Progressive. | Print Story. | April 23, 2007.
"The first problem is failure to see the people," David K. Shipler announces early in his book The Working Poor: Invisible in America (published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).
In a move unusual for liberal tomes of its ilk, it actually proposes solutions to the problem of poverty. Shipler fearlessly calls for us to look at what the "working poor" are, give some thought to it, and choose a term that's more appropriate. On his title, Shipler claims: "Working poor should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works hard should be poor in America."
Shipler's message bends backward even before it gets to us: indeed, it is the way it travels that makes our impression hazy. I purchased his packet of pages sold at the Princeton University bookstore for around $13, half a week's worth of lunches at McDonald's. This budget is contingent upon the assumption that "the [working] poor" are frugal and use the Dollar Menu, a move that Shipler wouldn't necessarily make himself. "They don't have milk, but they do have cable," sighs Brenda St. Lawrence, a caseworker featured a few times in Shipler's text. Evidently the poor don't follow Malthusian Theory: instead of scaling up the pyramid, they take the elevator a few floors and complain about their aching legs - or their backs, as Willie, the construction worker husband of Sarah, legitimately discovered. Misplaced priorities plague the young couple: they own a stack of CDs but no clothes for the baby. "We'd put ourselves poor," Willie echoed, "but I know if we were smart people, we could be really well off…I guess it's easier to make life easier by doing something that costs money…It's our own fault. I'm not blaming it on anyone else."
As I flip out a pair of jeans from the dryer, a soggy piece of plastic falls to the floor. The letter "Z" was barely visible in a twisted scrawl and what used to be two "O"s now crumpled into a shape similar to the squared-off rims of a hipster's glasses. This is, or rather was, my membership card to my hometown zoo. Warped and jaded, the card hasn't survived a spin cycle, and replacing it won't be easy.
A quick Google search, and I'm on my way: Catskill Game Farm. "Finally, something that will remind me of home," I thought. In addition to the average farm fare of goats and sheep, though, "exotic" animals are also featured: crocodiles, snakes, zebras, giraffes. "2000 animals in 150 different species," a blurb boasts. But an Aug. 4 article warns that the zoo will soon close.
As an undergraduate, Sally Frank '80 took politics to the street, campaigning door-to-door for Democratic candidates. Her political work also extended to a different sort of Street.
During her sophomore and junior years, Frank translated her personal Bicker experiences to a legal suit citing sex-based discrimination against three of Princeton's eating clubs: Ivy Club, Tiger Inn and University Cottage Club. T.I. was the last to concede, and did so in 1992 only after the U.S. Supreme Court twice refused to hear the case. Cottage and Ivy allowed women to join in 1986 and 1990, respectively.
Frank was also active in more traditional politics. She worked for the College Democrats in the presidential election of '76, supporting Jimmy Carter's campaign. She remembers "going to the Jerry Ford rally and heckling," and even met one of Carter's sons.
We all remember the butterfly ballots, the hanging chads. The "2000 election debacle," as J. Alex Halderman GS calls it, filled the headlines with controversy.
But for this Ph.D. candidate in the computer science department, working with fellow graduate student Ariel Feldman under computer science professor Ed Felten, it inspired a study that might just change the direction of midterm elections this year. The results of this study caused an uproar when they were released in September, and these two students show no signs of slowing down.
"We were motivated by the belief that computer systems that play such an important role in our democracy should be subjected to independent, expert security analysis," Feldman said.
Most of the time, the word "race" is the precursor to an awkward pause. It takes a rare student like Lester Mackey '07 to get beyond that discomfort and delve into the meat of the issue.
As a senior staff member of The Prism, the only magazine on campus focusing on "diversity," Mackey finds himself with a unique forum. Over his three years at Princeton, though, he has come to realize that it's no easy task.
With the tag "Dialogue. Diversity. Difference...," The Prism is re-surging this fall in large part due to Mackey's brainstorming sessions with editor Aita Amaize '07 this past summer.
Mackey, who is black, said he thought about race "not much at all" during his adolescence. Yet, at his public high school in Long Island, Mackey said "segregation by geography" based on "patches of black, Hispanic, and white communities" created a "very interesting mix, both racially and economically."
The move to Princeton, Mackey admits, was a bit of a culture shock.