Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch
F E B R U A R Y    2 0 0 9
Alumni News
For more alumni info

Follow this link to
February's Alumni Notes

Send email to

James M. McPherson, A&S '63 (PhD): Inventing the "Modern" Wartime Presidency
Andrew Chen, A&S '93, Engr '94 (MS), Med '97: When Skiers Really Hit the Slopes
Mia Birk, SAIS '90: Pedal Power vs. Car Culture
Elizabeth Gradie-Chinn, Bus '00, and Deborah Rivera-Wienhold, Bus '01: A Dream Come True
Shelf Life
Leadership Weekend 2008
What's in a Chair?
In the News...
Picture This!
Dues Do It!

James M. McPherson, A&S '63 (PhD): Inventing the "Modern" Wartime Presidency

Abraham Lincoln stands tall among American presidents, and so does the pile of books written about him. This month, as the nation celebrates the 200th birthday of the president who won the Civil War and ended slavery in the United States, it also contemplates the historic importance of its first African-American president. It seems that Lincoln is as timely as ever.

Civil War historian James McPherson's new book explores the military side of the 16th president. James M. McPherson has contributed to that pile. One of the country's preeminent Civil War historians and a professor of history at Princeton for 42 years, McPherson has authored 18 books about Lincoln or the war, many of which examine their topics through the lens of race. By far his most renowned work, though, is the Pulitzer Prize-winner Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford University Press, 1988), a survey of the war that managed to impress academics with its hefty scholarship while at the same time delighting general audiences with its compelling narration — no easy task.

His most recent book, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (Penguin Press, 2008), focuses on Lincoln's skills as commander-in-chief. McPherson's argument in Tried by War centers around the fact that the U.S. Constitution nowhere defines the president's powers as commander-in-chief. Nor did presidential action in previous wars offer Lincoln any consistent guidance in waging the war of his day. So Lincoln developed what can be considered a modern sense of how a president leads a nation during war. "One thing that impressed me was just how quickly, how thoroughly, he grasped the essentials of military strategy and was quite advanced," McPherson says. Lincoln's military commanders, for instance, "failed to take into consideration that political considerations were crucial," he says. "It could not just be a war fought by arms in a vacuum. He was modern in that respect."

Whether dealing with such hapless commanders as the perpetually cautious and bumbling George B. McClellan early in the war or the much more astute and aggressive Ulysses S. Grant late in the war, Lincoln often found himself making the major strategic decisions that in effect made him general-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief. Lincoln complained that the Union Army, which outnumbered the Confederate Army, was slow moving and risk averse. McClellan in particular, McPherson writes, always seemed to be preparing for battles and then procrastinating rather than going on the offensive. Grant finally exercised the kind of initiative that Lincoln advocated. Lincoln sent numerous telegrams to his generals in the field, often chiding them for not pursuing the war more vigorously.

Considering how much of Lincoln's tenure was consumed with conducting the war — and considering the fact that the United States is now fighting wars on several fronts — the topic of his military acumen has gotten surprisingly little attention of late. Scholars half a century ago took it up, McPherson explains, but contemporary historians have tended to be more interested in social, rather than military, history. McPherson thought it deserved more scholarly attention.

McPherson, a native Minnesotan, came to Johns Hopkins as a graduate student in the late 1950s because he wanted to study under the renowned Civil War historian C. Vann Woodward. "The substance of his lectures was wonderful," he says, "and he was a role model in terms of scholarship, writing, and the ability to make the past relevant to an understanding of the present."

"Few historians write as well as McPherson, and none evoke the sound of battle with greater clarity. There is scarcely anyone writing today who mines original sources more diligently."
—The New York Times

In the early 1960s, Baltimore was still a segregated city, and when Hopkins and Morgan State students, led by the late Hopkins chaplain Chester Wickwire, protested at a movie theater in northeast Baltimore, McPherson was part of the picket line. Experiences like these colored his study of the events of the Civil War. "It certainly was in my consciousness to make connections between then [the Civil War era] and now [the civil rights era] as I wrote my dissertation," he says. "I didn't know if I was living in the 1860s or the 1960s." That dissertation became his first book, The Struggle for Equality, published in 1964 after he had taken the position on the Princeton faculty.

That was the beginning of a career of writing and teaching, but also of gaining an ever-more intimate understanding of the Civil War and the people who fought it. He has built a considerable reputation on his ability to bring history alive in a serious, but eminently readable way. In its review of McPherson's Tried By War, The New York Times wrote: "Few historians write as well as McPherson, and none evoke the sound of battle with greater clarity. There is scarcely anyone writing today who mines original sources more diligently."
— Mike Giuliano, A&S '78, '79 (MA)

Andrew Chen, A&S '93, Engr '94 (MS), Med '97: When Skiers Really Hit the Slopes

When elite American ski jumpers crash-land after hurtling through the air at speeds approaching 95 miles per hour, Andrew Chen is often the doctor responsible for treating their head and shoulder injuries, bruised knees, and sprained ankles. Chen, a nationally recognized orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, is head physician of the U.S. Ski Jump Team and a team physician for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team. "These guys are flying," Chen says. "When they don't land jumps properly, it can be more like a trauma case than a simple ski accident."

Andrew Chen (left), physician to the ski, ski jump, and snow board stars, is ready to treat a crash landing. Chen earned his bachelor's in biology and his master's in materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins, then went on to medical school at Johns Hopkins and a residency in orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York. But Chen, an amateur skier and snowboarder, found his true medical calling on the slopes: He became interested in managing the care of professional athletes, particularly skiers, while completing a sports medicine fellowship at the prestigious Steadman Hawkins Foundation in Vail, Colorado. He has since helped care for the Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York. These days, Chen divides his time between the Alpine Clinic in New Hampshire — where he treats mostly skiers of the non-Olympic variety — and the ski and ski jump teams. He first began working with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team in 2006, when officials asked him to join the medical staff. In 2008, he added the Ski Jump team after a chance encounter at a bar in Finland with a World Cup executive. (Chen struck up a conversation with the only person in the bar speaking English; impressed by Chen's background, the World Cup honcho urged him to apply for the top doc spot.)

Chen, who specializes in knee and shoulder injuries, spends about six weeks a year traveling with the ski jump team. "It's a busy life," says Chen. "I'm trying to maintain a full clinical practice, I try to keep a hand in research, and I am currently writing a textbook." But it's a rewarding one, he says. "Taking an athlete at the top level who's been sidelined and getting them back to the pinnacle of performance is very gratifying."
—Kristen A. Graham

Mia Birk, SAIS '90: Pedal Power vs. Car Culture

The easiest fix to a wide variety of contemporary American woes — volatile fuel costs, pollution, even obesity — was invented nearly 150 years ago: the bicycle. Or so says Mia Birk, an award-winning bicycle and pedestrian urban planner.

Bicycle and pedestrian urban planner Mia Birk: "We want to change perceptions so that it'll be something normal to just get on a bike and go." For the past 17 years, Birk has made a mission of getting more of her fellow citizens out of their cars and onto their bikes. Her work in the 1990s as Portland, Oregon's Bicycle Program manager led to the quadrupling of miles of bikeway paths and lanes in that city. Today, some 8 percent of trips taken by Portland residents are done by bicycle, one of the highest rates in the nation. That number is as high as 28 percent in some neighborhoods.

Currently a principal at Alta Planning + Design — a Portland-based company that researches, plans, and creates bike, pedestrian, and greenway projects all over the world — and a professor at Portland State University, she's also at work on her first book, Joyride: A Woman's Journey to Empower People and Transform Communities. Just back from a fact-finding trip to bike-friendly Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Birk explains her eureka moment, her work, and how to alter America's car culture.

You're one of the nation's preeminent bicycling advocates, yet you didn't even start riding a bike until graduate school?
That's right. I grew up in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. It's right in the heart of Texas car culture. I did not ride a bike until I came to [the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies] in 1989. When I arrived in Washington, D.C., we were told that the DuPont Circle location had no parking, and don't drive because there's nowhere to park. My brother said, "Take my bike" — it was an old 10-speed Schwinn. I'd always been out of shape, and I found riding to be invigorating. I felt free. I started biking farther and farther, and ended up giving up my car while I was in D.C

Your work in Portland garnered the city a lot of attention. Why did things work there?
There's a critical set of things working together in cities that get it right. Political leadership is one. Trained and motivated staff, at all levels, and public support are both critical. And of course, there's money. I've worked in hundreds of cities, and the ones that go furthest have a top level of leaders who embrace the idea and want their cities to be more healthy and prosperous.

When gas prices spike up, as they did last summer, does your phone start ringing?
It does, but a number of factors are converging at once right now. There's the increasing awareness of our unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle and its dramatic impact on our health care system. There's the environmental harm. There's the impact of traffic congestion and high stress. But $4 gas is really not that expensive. Gas is something like $8 a gallon in Europe. Those countries also have a system of incentives and disincentives — there are great bike systems, and you literally can't drive everywhere [because] the inner cities are closed to traffic. In many European countries, there are very high registration fees and up to a 180 percent sales tax on automobiles. In the U.S., we only have the incentives part. We haven't done much to rein in the automobile.

Are some cities just impossible to make more bicycle friendly?
You can do something in every city. Where are you going to get the biggest bang for your buck? How do you promote bicycling? The places that hire us have already bought in. We have the most success in cities that have less of a car culture.

How do you work with areas where biking isn't regarded as viable transportation?
In suburban communities, where people are driving on every trip, it's harder to get them to shift. We're looking more and more at just local trips, like riding bikes to parks or schools. We might recommend one fabulous trail project, rather than putting lots of paths on roads. We want to change perceptions so that it'll be something normal to just get on a bike and go. Just a decade ago, recycling was still sort of a strange thing to do. Now, everybody knows you recycle. That's what I see with bikes.

Are U.S. cities becoming more actively interested in developing bike systems?
There's growing recognition that this current situation cannot be sustained. There's a lot of space out in Car Culture USA [new, suburban and exurban rural developments], which is a big help in space design because you're not constrained by rivers or hills or existing city spaces. We're working with Dallas now to develop a system of bike lanes in downtown. I have not gotten a single whiff of resistance down there, and it feels really good.
— Geoff Brown

Elizabeth Gradie-Chinn, Bus '00, and Deborah Rivera-Wienhold, Bus '01: A Dream Come True

Unlike most bouts of insomnia, Deborah Rivera-Wienhold's turned out to be rather productive. After a stretch of sleepless nights, she was eventually lulled to sleep with the help of a body pillow. That set Rivera-Wienhold, who has a background in early childhood education, to thinking: Could a creatively designed, child-sized body pillow do the same for kids who have trouble sleeping?

The DreamKuddle Pillow With friend and fellow Carey Business School alumna Elizabeth Gradie-Chinn, she set out to see if the idea could work. They conducted focus groups, mostly with moms, and reviewed existing research on children and sleep. Gradie-Chinn, an amateur seamstress, developed a prototype — a brightly colored pillow with an animal appliqué. It had a curved shape designed to promote proper spine alignment, a soft fleece exterior, and by 2004, a name: the DreamKuddle Pillow. The two spent another year conducting market research, creating a business plan, and identifying a manufacturer. "It was surprising how tough the juvenile market is," says Gradie-Chinn. "It's a very competitive, tough, business-a crowded, noisy market."

Within a year, DreamKuddle Pillows were for sale in 100 specialty stores. Rivera-Wienhold and Gradie-Chinn patented the design, and in 2007, they signed a license agreement with Jay at Play, the children's division of Jay Franco and Sons. The deal gave the company control of the product, but gave the inventors a percentage of sales. Now, you can find the duo's work marketed as Mushabelly pillows.

The current incarnation looks very different from the original. It's more like a stuffed animal — a bird, a giraffe, a penguin — and it makes noise when you squeeze its belly. There's also a Web site, where children can register their pillows in Mushabelly University or take them to a virtual show at Mushabelly Concert Arena. "We love what Jay Franco did," says Rivera-Wienhold. "It was a great learning experience. We really used our newly minted MBAs, and it's exciting to know the idea has merit."

Shelf Life

The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan, A&S '04 (MA) (Harcourt, 2008)
The 619 pages chronicle a fictionalized Brahman family through the first half of the 20th century in small-town southern India. And such an extended family! The matriarch gets an early start, having wed according to caste and custom at age 11. Her learned astrologer husband accurately divines his own early death. But hitching his family's future to traditions of the past, he arranges to have a lemon present at the birth of the first child. That, plus perceptivity and a sensible choice of hired hand, sustains the largely ostracized widow through layers of challenge and offspring — each generation tossing in new customs alien to its elders. Viswanathan, born to a Canadian offshoot of this Tamil family tree, attempts to honor a now faded culture — a formidable undertaking even when the readers share that history. She makes the exotic accessible.

Album of the Damned: Snapshots From the Third Reich, by Paul Garson, A&S '70 (MA) (Academy Chicago, 2008)
The photos meander from banal family portraits to soldiers throwing snowballs. Babes in arms steal almost as many scenes as swaggering jackboots. But the leitmotiv in the spare accompanying text as well as the pictures is the Holocaust that these Germans wielding only Leicas had a role in perpetrating. The concentration camps and ovens, while not in view, are ever present.
—Lew Diuguid, SAIS '63

Leadership Weekend 2008

What do you get when you mix together hundreds of alumni volunteers, a mountain of crabs, and 20 years of history? One whirlwind October weekend! The traditional fall gathering of university trustees and alumni, Leadership Weekend 2008 offered an opportunity for alumni to reconnect with each other, the university, and the work of the Alumni Association through advisory council meetings, student leadership lunches, a crab feast, and the Alumni Council 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner.

The Alumni Association Heritage Award was presented to longtime alumni volunteer Arno Drucker, Peab '70, here with his wife, Ruth, a former Peabody faculty member.

Luis Oros, A&S '11, student ambassador; Anne Marie McKenzie-Brown, Med '87; and Steven Chen, Med '10, student representative to the Alumni Council, get into a heated debate: to eat or not to eat the crab mustard.

Ross, A&S '53, and Lynn Jones are flanked by former Alumni Council Presidents Jim Archibald, A&S '71, and Fran Keen, Nurs '70. Keen shared her reflections on the council's lighthearted moments and poignant accomplishments during the Alumni Council 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner.

President Brody presented a pair of Heritage Awards to outgoing Alumni Council President Jim Miller, A&S '64, and his wife, Joyce, a dedicated volunteer. Brody was presented with his own Heritage Award after his final Leadership Weekend "State of the University" address.

The new officers of the Alumni Council-First Vice President Ray Snow, A&S '70; President Geraldine Peterson, Nurs '64; Secretary Jay Lenrow, A&S '73, SAIS '73; Treasurer Cecilia Lenk, Engr '76; and Second Vice President Terri Lynn McBride, SAIS '01 — "stir" up new ideas during the Alumni Council crab feast at the Museum of Industry.

What's in a Chair?

During the Knowledge for the World campaign, which concluded December 31, Johns Hopkins established 92 new professorships, a new deanship in the Whiting School, and a directorship and a curatorship in the Sheridan Libraries.

Nick Jones, who holds the Benjamin T. Rome Deanship at the Whiting School of Engineering, with Joe Reynolds, Eng '69 (seated), and his wife, Lynn, at the dedication of the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professorship. Endowed faculty positions date back five centuries to 1502, when Margaret, countess of Richmond (and mother of Henry VII), created the first endowed chairs in divinity at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Today, Johns Hopkins boasts more than 350 named professorships, with the university's first endowed chair having been established in 1889.

"Of all the fine gifts a university receives, none makes a more profound or more permanent difference than the gift of an endowed professorship," says university President William R. Brody. "It serves our mission of teaching, research, and service in an especially powerful and visible way. A professorship has the permanence of endowment, and it allows us to attract the best faculty minds we can identify anywhere in the world."
— Nora Koch

In the News...

Chris Beyrer, SPH '90, director of the Center for Public Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, co-authored an op-ed piece in the December 2 Boston Globe titled "An Unnatural Disaster in Burma." The piece describes the imprisonment of humanitarian aid workers and civilian volunteers and the struggle of the international community to protect public health following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.

Timothy F. Geithner, SAIS '85, was appointed secretary of the treasury by President-elect Barack Obama in November. Geithner has served as president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since 2003. He has served under three presidents at the Department of Treasury, including as under secretary of the Treasury for international affairs from 1999 to 2001.

Evan Ryan, SAIS '06, was appointed assistant to the vice president for intergovernmental affairs and public liaison by Vice President-elect Joe Biden, also in November. She served as an advisory to the Biden campaign, and on the White House staff as special assistant to the first lady's chief of staff and then as deptuy director of scheduling in the Clinton administration.

Jonathan Groce, A&S '04, shared an Emmy win for Outstanding Game Show for the Discovery Channel's Cash Cab, in which unsuspecting passengers become contestants who are asked general knowledge questions en route to their destinations. If they answer correctly, they get cash; if not, they get ejected from the cab. Groce works as a casting and development producer with Lion Television, the show's production company.

Picture This!

Our first attempt at gathering photos from Alumni Journeys travelers brought in everything from the Johns Hopkins flag flying on a tall ship to Venetian gondoliers talking on their cell phones. Through an admittedly unscientific selection, we've chosen the following image, submitted by Anne, A&S '88, and Lee Lipton, who traveled on the Treasures of Southern Africa trip in January 2008.

Lee wrote: "The picture was taken on the grounds of the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Livingstone, Zambia. It's on the banks of the Zambezi River, right at the top of Victoria Falls. There were baboons all over the property, which made the experience that much more fun. We came across this mother and child right at the bank of the river."

For a complete list of all Alumni Journeys photo submissions, and a look at the full list of 2009 destinations, visit

Dues Do It!

If you are a regular peruser of Alumni Notes, then you're probably aware that so many of Johns Hopkins' alumni are prolific authors and/or avid readers. The Alumni Association has a new program designed to connect these bookworms to a virtual book group and online discussion forum through JHU inCircle. The Hopkins Book Club launches this month, with Krieger School history professor Michael Johnson hosting a discussion of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, by James M. McPherson, A&S '63 (PhD). (See above for more details about the book.) The pilot project, which includes taped conversations with faculty available online, is supported by Alumni Association membership dues. To learn more, join the discussion, or view upcoming featured selections, visit
—Kirsten Lavin

Return to February 2009 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | 901 S. Bond St. | Suite 540 | Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone 443-287-9900 | Fax 443-287-9898 | E-mail