Glasgow Uni

Hello everyone. This is my first post as one of this year’s Roger M. Jones Fellows. My name is Charlie Velis and I did my undergrad in Mechanical Engineering. I am now at the University of Glasgow in Scotland for a program in War Studies. Our classes begin tomorrow and although I am nervous, I am beyond excited!

The study of war and global conflict has always interested me and I feel very fortunate to now be studying it at this level. I look forward to sharing more about me, and this program, as this year progresses but in the meantime, here’s a photo of myself on a brilliant hike about 45 minutes north of Glasgow.

Sounds of Silence

I’m happy to report that this week was filled with interesting lectures* and other events…. and an extra few hours on the dance floor. ūüôā Though my skills don’t¬†come close to those of the¬† (no joke) who signed in¬†before me, I am quite enjoying the (non-competitive) classes with the KCL Dance Society. ¬†My hamstrings can attest to the fact that¬†I haven’t done so many kicks since I was a majorette (twirled baton in marching band) in high school.

Dancing, running,¬†or even just walking around town– it is rather simple to take the ability to participate in such activities for granted. I know I’ve mentioned this before with respect to navigating numerous flights of stairs at tube stations without lifts or escalators, but I think it is worth revisiting.¬†This week’s reminder came to me¬†on Guy’s Campus, the science / medical campus. ¬† Since I don’t have classes on Guy’s Campus, I don’t frequent it as much, and thus my decision to find a¬†bathroom quickly became an adventure in the basement of the¬†Hodgkin Building: a maze of sloped corridors presumably designed to accommodate gurneys. ¬†Despite KCL’s good intention of hanging signs (TOILETS —> ) I still couldn’t manage to find the regular facilities. ¬†Having spotted a empty handicapped-accessible room with 1 toilet, I decided I didn’t need to pick a fight about¬†about the poor¬†signage (which didn’t actually¬†direct¬†people to this¬†singular¬†toilet).

Now, I’m sure most of you have entered a handicapped-accessible stall someplace: it’s most notable feature is its¬†large size that can accommodate a wheelchair or other similar medical device. ¬†Hospital bathrooms usually add in a few bars that the patient and / or medical assistant can use for support. This bathroom not only had those features, but also (most memorable for someone who is 5’10”)¬†had¬†the sink and hand dryer at levels that would be easily usable by someone who is sitting. ¬†The engineer in me was taking stock of these details: “Nice! Someone was really thinking when they designed this!”¬†But I¬†couldn’t help but think of the countless¬†other public bathrooms that I had visited where the design seemed to forget that people who are confined to¬†wheelchairs probably have the same desire to wash and dry their hands as people that are able to stand. ¬†I’ve never had to navigate a public restroom whilst in a wheelchair, though I think that if I ever had to design one, that is definitely a test I would want to apply.

In Engineering design courses, we are constantly reminded to envision our product from the user’s lens.¬†For example,¬†my senior design team was tasked with building a hearing screening device for newborns in¬†South Africa. Our motivation was rooted in the understanding that most cases of hearing loss could be ‘corrected’ if¬†deaf children who were diagnosed¬†and given¬†treatment (eg: hearing aids, extra¬†language development instruction, etc) before critical language development years; children who were diagnosed after¬†this period of critical language development (typically identified by unresponsiveness to¬†loud noises or delayed ability to speak) would never attain¬†the speaking proficiency of their normal-hearing peers. ¬†¬†Though I dare say my team did a pretty good job of accounting for¬†many of¬†these nuanced factors that can make or break the successful implementation of a medical device into a community, I don’t think we ever considered whether the parents would actually¬†prefer¬†to have a deaf child.

I mentioned this topic in a post at the beginning of last term, and after months of sitting with this idea, it still doesn’t sit well with me. ¬†But a marked sign of development is the fact that I better understanding¬†the arguments surrounding the case and can articulate¬†some of my own perspectives that amount to more than ‘an odd feeling’.

Another marked sign of progress is my improved reading speed.** ¬†In between my assigned readings for my classes, I’ve managed to read some more about this case of choosing deafness in the book that our program director (Dr Silvia Camporesi) recently published– ¬†From Bench to Bedside, to Track & Field: The Context of Enhancement and its Ethical Relevance. ¬†Despite the fact that my teammates and I didn’t consider the possibility that some people would prefer to have a deaf child, Silvia notes that:

“Empirical research suggests that deaf people often have a degree of preference for a deaf child, and a rather smaller number would consider acting on their preference with the use of selective techniques. [***See references below.] It turns out that such parents do not view certain genetic conditions as diabilities¬†but as a passport to enter into a rich, shared culture” (p 54).

THAT is certainly some food for thought for engineers trying to implement hearing screening devices.

Last week we were invited to attend Silvia’s book launch.¬†This was pretty exciting since the last book release that I can remember attending was for Harry Potter 7, and¬†no, J K Rowling did not make a guest appearance at Meijer.¬†This intimate event was shared with a good showing from our Social Science, Health, and Medicine department as well as Silvia’s husband & parents who made the trip in from Italy!

At the book launch with some of my classmates. Photo courtesy of Silvias mom. :)
At the book launch with some of my classmates. Photo courtesy of Silvia’s mom. ūüôā

Considering the theme of my musings, I was excited to learn about and attend a Deaf Arts Festival hosted in London this past weekend. (Photos courtesy of Silvia.)

I managed to catch the last part of the student theatre production. Although they provided some super-titles on the background screen, the main method of communication was British Sign Language and a bit of loud, low frequency sounds that you could feel. ¬†Perhaps my favorite part was the silent round of applause at the end of the show– something that looks quite similar to jazz hands or spirit fingers at a basketball game. ¬†I can’t say I understood everything (I think they were performing a¬†modern interpretation of Hamlet?) but it certainly provided some good¬†think time.

And now I’ll leave you here to give you some think-time of your own.



*I’ve saved¬†my notes from one of my favorite lectures this week which gave a philosophical response to “What does it mean to love a person?” ¬†If I can time this well, I might be able to release this mid-February… ūüėČ ¬†Stay tuned!

**I suppose that comes with practice, and goodness knows that those skills had become quite rusty during my years at UM. ¬†Reading a biotransport textbook (30% text, 70% equations) is vastly different than reading a paper¬†about withholding blood transfusions from Jehovah’s Wittness children.

*** References:

Middleton, A, J Hewison, and R F Mueller. 1998. ¬†“Attitudes of Deaf Adults Toward Genetic Testing for Hereditary Deafness.”¬†American Journal of Human Genetics¬†63 (4): 1175-1180. doi:10.1086/302060

Stern, S J, KS Arnos, L Murrelle, K Oelrich Welch, W E Nance, and A Pandya. 2002. ¬†“Attitudes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Subjects Towards Genetic Testing and Prenatal Diagnosis of Hearing Loss.”¬†Journal¬†of Medical Genetics¬†39 (6) (June): 449-453.

Featured image: also from the Deaf Arts Festival. Photo courtesy of Silvia.

Hogsmeade (Cambridge) in the Rain

The International Student House (ISH) organizes¬†a number of events designed to help international students get acquainted to life overseas. ¬†This includes a “travel club” with weekend outings– sometimes just a quick ride to a nearby city and other times to a different country in Europe. ¬†I’m a bit skeptical of most tours, but ISH manages to put some pretty neat outings together that cost less if you just sign up and show up than if you were to do the work in organizing¬†your own trip. ¬†The “Candy & Cambridge” trip caught my eye, and I decided that the ¬£25 investment was about as risk-free as I could get for a pre-planned¬†Saturday getaway.

Our group of 14 students from various London universities¬†met at 7:30am which required a 6:30am sunrise walk¬†for me.* We took a large van, which felt quite odd since it had been nearly a month since I had been in a “proper vehicle”. ¬†I’ve summarized the day through pictures below. Be sure to open the pictures to view the captions!

Part 1: Strolling the park

We arrived a bit before our punting trip was scheduled, which gave us time to stroll in the nearby park.

Part 2: Punting!

I originally thought this punting business was reserved for gullible tourists, but it turns out that it’s a rather common past time for students, too. ¬†In fact, most of the colleges that have river frontage own their own rafts for the students to take out by themselves.

Note: I say college because Cambridge is made up of many different colleges which are similar to a fraternity / sorority house… or, let’s be real, one of the 4 houses at Hogwarts.

Part 3: Foot tour of the city

The rain began just in time for our tour.  I was very happy to have my umbrella with me, but my feet (in Birkenstocks) were about numb after a few hours.  Nevertheless, walking around the city was time well spent!

Awesome Prank: Car on the Senate House

The engineer in me was thrilled to see the Cambridge kids know how to¬†put those physics¬†lessons to good use. Read this article¬†to learn more about how 13 students managed to get a vehicle on top of the Senate House (probably most comparable to UM’s Michigan Union)… in 1958.

Most adequate engineering principles at use. (Courtesy of Daily Mail)

Part 4: Honeydukes

The last part of this tour was spent making fudge at a local fudge shop.

The trip home passed rather quicklyРas does most any activity when you attempt to participate whilst in a sugar coma.   Twas a wonderful (but quite wet) day, and I definitely hope to return to Cambridge again!

*Tangent Re: Transportation

Though public transportation runs reliably and frequently, in general, I walk unless my commute is going to be more than an hour.  Even though the tube ride would have only been a few minutes, by the time you:

  • walk to the tube station (4 minutes– I’m lucky enough to live next to Waterloo Station which is a pretty big hub, with connections for ),
  • walk¬†through¬†the station to the correct platform (6 minutes),
  • wait for a tube (2 minutes… up to 10 minutes if it is on the weekend when the routes run less frequently OR during a peak time when the tube is more packed than a Bursley Bates during lunch hour requiring you to wait for a few to pass before there is enough room for you to squeeze aboard),
  • ride the tube (7 minutes),
  • walk through the station until you are above ground (6 minutes), and finally
  • walk to your intended destination (5 minutes),

the ~45 minute walk looks quite pleasant.


Notable exceptions:

1. Don’t attempt to walk if you wish to look presentable and¬†it is currently or will soon be raining. For all you London weather savvy people, you’ll realize that this instruction is a bit silly– how should this principle guide your life if:

  • a. the sky looks to be threatening rain ~90% of the time
  • b. the weather report is about as reliable as looking at the clouds
  • c. the rain swiftly changes from drizzle to very windy downpour and then back again. ¬†This was the demise of my umbrella:

Feeling quite like a wet cat...

2. Don’t attempt to take the tube when there is a strike. ¬†The next one has been announced for next week (Oct 14-16); read more about it in this article¬†which states the reason for the strike¬†as Tube ticket office closures.

“The axing of ticket offices and station staffing grades would render the Tube a no-go zone for many people with disabilities and for women travelling alone. The cuts ignore the realities of life that we saw when services broke down last week and the recent surveys which point to an increase in violence and sexual assaults.”

– James Rush, The Independent

Hmmm… any¬†Tube traveler can tell you that some stations are¬†quite unfriendly for people with disabilities regardless of whether or not there is someone in the ticket office. ¬†(Recall my move-in adventure with 2 bags and multiple flights of stairs¬†without an escalator or lift.) ¬†Compare this apparent apathy with the care that the museum directors take to make culture accessible to people of all different backgrounds and abilities.¬†I’ve been pondering this rather stark contrast over the last few weeks and will update you if I distill¬†further thoughts…