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Beautifully bald

This was nervousness. Hardcore nervousness.

“It wasn’t even butterflies in my stomach,” Rowan junior Courtney VanLeuvan says. “It was jumping monkeys.”

Publicly shaving your head—especially when you are a female with long, beautiful locks—is no joke.

But when VanLeuvan walked onto the stage of Rowan’s Chamberlain Student Center with three other fearless females, when she saw the love and support from classmates and family members who had squeezed into every inch of floor and balcony space in the Pit to cheer them on, when the barber’s cape was secured ceremoniously around her neck, her nervousness gave way to pride…and a true sense of purpose.

After all, Rowan’s third annual St. Baldrick’s Day event, which included 54 students—49 men, five women—publicly shaving their heads, had raised a phenomenal $20,500 for pediatric cancer research.

To view the 2013 St. Baldrick’s Day video, visit the Rowan YouTube page.

So what’s a few bald heads between Rowan friends?

“These ladies,” Graduate Coordinator of Student Activities Lauren Thompson gushed as the razors began buzzing, “have raised more than $6,000—just among themselves—to fight childhood cancer. Let them feel the love.”

That was no problem for the St. Baldrick’s Day crowd. The women who took the stage for the final, emotional, public shaving of the evening were clearly rock stars in the eyes of their supporters. Van Leuvan, Rebekah Russell, Katie Cesario and Janille Olivo all watched their long locks flurry to the ground. Theater arts major Christina Higgins, the other female shavee, had her head shaved earlier in the evening.

“You’re beautiful!” male and female students shouted as the women gathered up their pony tails, all of which were donated to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hairpieces to children who have lost their hair due to medical problems.

Making a statement

Many of the St. Baldrick’s participants shaved their heads in tribute to family members or friends who have battled cancer. The female shavees had those goals—and a few more.

They wanted to make a public statement about beauty, about confidence, about courage. Kids with cancer, they note, don’t have any choice when they lose their hair due to treatments.

“I’m trying to make a statement and illustrate the point that hair is not beauty. It doesn’t define who we are and it certainly doesn’t define our beauty,” says Russell, an art major whose family traveled from Cary, N.C. to watch her shave her mane of red ringlets.

“As women, we’re so attached to our hair. We think that makes us who we are. But it doesn’t,” says VanLeuvan.

Russell raised $2,300 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, while Cesario, a sophomore history and education major, raised $1,000. Olivo, a junior liberal studies major, raised $2,070 and Van Leuvan raised more than $800.

Clinical mental health counseling student James “Bubba” Castorina was the top male fundraiser at $1,070. He asked his barber to carve out “$20K” in the back of his head in celebration of Rowan students reaching their goal. As they have for the past three years, barbers from Glassboro’s Hair To There volunteered their services for the evening.

Rowan’s Student University Programmers (SUP) was the event sponsor. Cesario serves as director of signature events for SUP and spent the evening coordinating the event before taking her turn in the barber’s chair.

Remarkably, since 2011, Rowan students have raised more than $50,500 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

The support from the St. Baldrick’s Day crowd was exhilarating, Van Leuvan says.

“Until I got onto the stage, I didn’t realize how many people were there. We had students from all majors at the university standing together, side by side.

“This event gave us a chance to sit back and see that we’re a community and a family at Rowan. It was so great—so emotional—to see the support, especially from students,” says Van Leuvan.

“I will be talking about this experience for the rest of my life.”

Robots make a splash at Rowan University

Twenty-four teams of middle and high school students and their robots will compete on Saturday, April 13, when Rowan University and the Naval Air Systems Command, Lakehurst, N.J., sponsor the first New Jersey Regional SeaPerch competition from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Rowan’s Esbjornson Gym and College of Engineering building, Glassboro, N.J.

SeaPerch, an underwater robotics program, integrates science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula by providing students the resources needed to construct an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), according to its site.

Competitors will bring their ROVs to Rowan’s Esbjornson pool, where they will compete in teams of three to four. They’ll be judged on speed, navigating an obstacle course and a Q&A session. The winner will receive the opportunity to compete at the National SeaPerch competition in Indianapolis, Ind.

“Students learn basic engineering and science concepts while being introduced to ship and submarine design and have fun in the process,” said Dr. Steven Chin, Rowan University’s College of Engineering associate dean. “It’s exciting to see the competition and see kids succeed, especially when they’re learning something in the process.”

Students also will have the opportunity to learn about Rowan’s College of Engineering, touring the Rowan Hall engineering building and meeting current engineering students.

The competition is free and open to the public.

(Participating teams are: Cape May County 4H, Burlington School District, U.S. Sea Cadet Lakehurst Squadron, Fort Dix Warriors 4H, Manchester School District, Harrington SeaPerch Club in Mt. Laurel, Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science {MATES} in Ocean County, St. Raphael School in Hamilton, Lacey School District, Colts Neck Cadets and Millville School District.)

Let’s go blue: Rowan to ‘light it up blue’ for autism awareness

Rowan University’s colors are brown and gold, but during the first week in April, the University will go “blue” to spread awareness about autism.

During “Rowan Lights it Up Blue for Autism,” beginning Monday, April 1st, at 7:30 p.m., five Rowan buildings will be illuminated in blue. The buildings will include: Campbell Library, Bunce Hall, the campus greenhouse, Hollybush and the South Jersey Tech Park. The buildings will remain blue during Autism Awareness Week, which runs through April 8.

Richard Jones, vice president for student life and dean of students, will speak at the lighting ceremony in the lobby of Campbell Library on April 1 at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re pleased to again have this opportunity to celebrate and promote autism awareness on our campus,” says John Woodruff, director of the Academic Success Center/Disability Resources.

Autism Awareness Week will continue with a “Light it Up Blue” Autism Walk and Resource Fair on Saturday, April 6, at the Rowan Rec Center. The one-mile walk for autism begins at 10:30 a.m. Meanwhile, a resource fair, featuring the Young Profs Exploration Camp, Just 2 Moms, Cooper University Hospital, The Autism Shoppe and Faces 4 Autism, runs from 10 a.m.-noon.

Autism Awareness Week at Rowan is a collaboration of Rowan’s Academic Success Center, Department of Facilities Management, the Applied Behavior Analysis Club, the Student Council for Exceptional Children, and Sigma Pi.

For information, contact Woodruff at 856-256-4234 or visit the event’s Facebook page at!/groups/321902511188338/

While the University community is celebrating “Light It Up Blue” in April, Rowan takes an active role in autism awareness throughout the year, Woodruff notes.

“At Rowan, autism awareness actually takes place year round with faculty-led trainings, mentoring for Rowan students with Asperger Syndrome and a unique summer camp for teens on the autism spectrum,” Woodruff says.

Campus buzz: Students look to raise $20,000 for pediatric cancer research during St. Baldrick’s Day

It’s just hair.

Rebekah Russell—who loves her long, luxurious, curly, crimson mane—has to keep reminding herself of that.

As part of Rowan University’s third annual St. Baldrick’s Day event, Russell will be one of 54 Rowan student shavees—and one of six women—to shave their heads to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Proceeds from the event, which is Tuesday, March 26, at 7 p.m. in the Pit of the Chamberlain Student Center, will go to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation (

Rowan students have set a goal of $20,000 for the foundation. Russell already has reached her $2,000 fundraising goal. In fact, she’s currently the leading Rowan fundraiser at $2,222.51. It seems a lot of supporters want her to shed her signature locks. And Russell, herself, is leading the charge.

“I’m incredibly nervous, but incredibly excited as well,” says Russell, a junior art major from Cary, N.C. In addition to raising funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Russell will donate her hair to Locks of Love to help make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments. “It took a whole year to prepare myself mentally for this, but it’s going to be worth it.

“In our society we have become so attached to our hair, myself included. I’m hoping to be able to break away from that—at least for some time. I’m trying to make a statement and illustrate the point that hair is not beauty. It doesn’t define who we are and it certainly doesn’t define our beauty.

“The kids who lose their hair due to cancer have no choice and they should not have to worry about losing their beauty or who they are,” she adds.

Russell and Courtney VanLeuvan, a junior psychology and Honors major from Toms River, made a pact to shave their heads this year. VanLeuvan decided to become a shavee after volunteering with Give Kids the World Village in Florida as part of an Alternative Winter Break Trip this year at Rowan. Children with life-threatening conditions and their families visit the village for a respite from treatments.

“At Give Kids the World Village, I saw children having so much fun and enjoying life despite their illness,” VanLeuvan says. “If they have the strength to go through treatment and fight cancer, I can give up my hair to support their fight. St. Baldrick’s Day shows that the children—and their families—have support from thousands of people.”

During St. Baldrick’s Day, students will publicly shave their heads in the Pit of the Chamberlain Student Center.  A group of volunteer barbers will do the honors. Students also conduct raffles of donated prizes throughout the evening to raise additional funds for the foundation.

In 2011, the first year for St. Baldrick’s at Rowan, students raised more than $13,000. Last year, they raised more than $17,000, well above their original $12,000 goal.

For information about St. Baldrick’s Day or to donate to the event, visit

College of Engineering collaborates with U.S. Navy

In Rowan University’s College of Engineering, students dive into solving real-life problems through innovative clinics. This semester, mechanical engineering students are working with the United States Navy.

Led by Dr. Thomas Merrill, mechanical engineering assistant professor, juniors and seniors are working alongside engineers at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Lakehurst, N.J., and Philadelphia, respectively.

“When the Navy has a problem, we have to define it in ways we understand,” said Merrill. “Then we explore potential solutions and begin designing, building, analyzing and testing.”

Student ownership

Merrill stressed the importance of independence after providing students with the problem and resources. “I try to make the clinic different than other projects and courses by giving students ownership. In many ways, the students will sink or swim based on their own internal motivation,” he said.

For the NAVAIR team, that means improving the sensors on aircraft carriers’ water brake system. “Over time, the system has to be maintained and the Navy has a hard time judging their maintenance cycle because the sensors they use keep failing on the system. We’re looking at alternative ways of measuring pressure versus time in the water brake,” said senior Tyler McGahee, 22, of Burlington Township, N.J.

Along with junior teammates Michael Brattoli, 21, of Florhan Park, N.J.; David Essner, 20, of Jackson, N.J.; and Jaimie Reiff, 20, of Beach Haven, N.J.; McGahee began assessing the problem with a tour of the water brake system at the Lakehurst base.

“The Navy engineers showed us all the parts of the water brake system, giving us a real scale of what we are working with, all the details. From there we started our plan of attack,” said Reiff.

Learning experience

While their original idea to scale the system down failed, the students received just what they’re here for — a learning experience.

“We realized it was completely impractical and then we started designing, thinking of solutions that would just simulate the conditions of the water brake system,” said Reiff.

After many calculations and four generations of design, the team members have a model to replicate the conditions they’re facing with the water brake.

“Right now, we’re looking into getting different companies to manufacture the parts for us. We have all the stock material, but we’re looking to see which local South Jersey manufacturing companies will be able to actually cut the parts we need,” said Essner.

“From there we can install our own solutions as if they were being attached straight to the water brake on an actual Navy carrier. Then we can see which solutions actually are feasible and work they way they are designed to,” said Brattoli.

Creating a robot

The NAVSEA team’s mission focuses on improving a laser metrology camera.

“It scans rooms and collects a 3-D image, taking the place of physically drawing a room. Their problem is they were setting it up on a tripod, physically screwing it in, and it was a long process. That hinders them from using the camera in places they can’t physically get to, like the hole in a submarine. They gave us guidelines, and we’re working to create a robot within those constraints – it has to raise above four feet, be about the size of a shoebox, able to raise and stabilize itself and go into damp conditions,” explained senior Jake Hostrander, 21, of Collegeville, Pa.

While researching, junior Matthew Rossett, 20, of Deptford, N.J., discovered a one-of-a-kind new invention, the Zippermast, a lift system to raise and lower the robot. He turned acquiring the Zippermast over to teammate Andreas Gabrielsen, a 21-year-old senior from Otisville, N.Y.

“That was a long process,” said Gabrielsen. “I finally got in touch with the inventor, George Woodruff, and he was really enthusiastic about the project. He likes working with military-related operations, so NAVSEA was perfect. We have it on loan now, with the option to purchase it for about $5,500. That already puts us over our clinic dollar budget. We’re discussing the feasibility of having it with our project managers. They were really impressed, but they’re running more tests on its electronics and stability before their purchasing department decides.”

If the Navy approves the Zippermast, it will serve as the camera’s main lift system. Once they’re ready, the team members – who also include junior Justin Aboloff, 21, of Marlton, N.J., and Ryan Laws, 21, of Jackson, N.J. – will test their design in a Navy environment. “It’s one thing to test it in Rowan Hall, it’s another to test it in a Navy ship,” said Merrill.

Career path

Both projects started in the fall, and many of the students hope it will carry into a career. The clinic has inspired almost every one of the NAVAIR and NAVSEA team members to consider a career with the Navy.

Bratolli is one of them. “There are a lot of clinics in the engineering college that deal with real-life applications, but I just think these two especially, they’re really serious implications of what our work could be. If it does turn out successful, it could cut costs for our military and make the system safer for those out fighting and protecting our country. If we don’t succeed it actually sets the Navy back, and then they have to find a way to figure out how they want to go about reaching their project goals. So there are real-life implications,” said Bratolli.

“Real-life risks,” interjected Reiff, planning a Navy career following her 2014 graduation.

“Very rewarding,” finished Bratolli.

In preparing them for their future Naval career, the students compare it to an internship.

Good experience

“Even without having my definite decision of what I want to follow, whether it’s the Navy or not, I definitely think this is a good experience for anyone, really. It’s a lot of hands-on and design work,” said Laws. “Once you come in here, they kind of just let you go on your own. You work on your own projects. It’s an independent and self-motivated experience.”

That’s exactly what Merrill is aiming for. “We try to encourage life-long learning skills in the students, things that are not necessarily textbook driven, but rather curiosity driven, persistence driven, ambition driven,” he said.

Merrill adds to the realistic experience by requiring the team to track their time sheets.

“They spend between probably five and 20 hours some weeks working on the project. That gets charged at a $75 an hour rate, and each month we invoice the Navy. Now these are fictitious invoices, but in the real world, if we were part of a consulting company, those would be real-world dollars,” explained Merrill. “I would say the Navy gets an incredible bargain. If you consider by the time we get done this you’re at 300 hours, it would be $22,500 worth of charges that they paid $5,000 for [the cost of the partnership].”

The students seem to sincerely appreciate this realistic system. “The way Rowan’s curriculum is structured you’re getting your hands dirty right from the get-go,” said Brattolli. “Between our projects, classes and the clinics, it really gives a nice foundation that really puts life to the things you read about in the book.”

Said Essner, “Other students are told something breaks. Here, we’re told it breaks then shown how it happens in the actual environment. By the time you get to your junior year you’re like ‘Ok, I’m actually comfortable with this.’ I can dive into these projects for the Navy, for any organization, and actually feel comfortable doing it.”