Research Revisted

In the 28 years Endeavors was a print magazine, over 80 editions were published and featured researchers in a variety of disciplines –– from medicine to theater. The Endeavors’ team sat down with a few who formerly graced our covers to look back on their experience working with the publication.

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February 7th, 2019

Walking into Bereket Habte Selassie’s home office provides a glimpse inside the mind of the emeritus professor of African studies and law. Books on history, political science, and foreign policy line floor-to-ceiling shelves. Certificates and recognitions cover the walls, along with photographs of family and colleagues through the years. On a small, round table sits a copy of Endeavors, with Selassie staring back from the cover.

“I was thrilled. It was an honor to be interviewed and to be featured, with a very impressive photograph on the front,” Selassie laughs while recalling his experience working with the Endeavors team.

In 2001, Endeavors reporters talked to Selassie and other UNC researchers studying democracy. They discussed both old and new forms of the political system, as well as its success and failures. After Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991, Selassie was chairman of the commission that drafted the country’s constitution. He spoke with Endeavors about constitutionalism –– models of a constitution, its process of creation, and its significance in a nation’s life.

“She [Angela Spivey] captured, I think, the essence of what I was saying,” he says.

In 2017, Selassie retired after 24 years at UNC. He has had no shortage of impressive accomplishments including being named attorney general in Ethiopia, serving as associate justice of Ethiopia’s supreme court, and representing the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front to the United Nations. Teaching, though, is something he says he will always hold dear.

“My life has been a charmed life,” he says. “The earlier part of my life –– the lawyer part and the politics –– were interesting and in some aspects even fascinating, but there is a value in teaching. You are shaping minds. That’s a wonderful piece of work for any human being.”

Ahead of the curve

Henry Fuchs is also reminded of meaningful connections with students while leafing through Endeavors’ first edition, printed in the winter of 1984.

“One of the pleasures of being at Carolina is to be able to work with very capable and dedicated students, and this reminds me of how nice that is,” he says.

The magazine featured the computer scientist’s work on pixel planes. These special-purpose chips quickly generated images, creating high-speed graphics for use in a variety of mediums like video games or flight simulators.

At the time, Fuchs came across plenty of skeptics. They questioned why he was trying to make special-purpose computers for producing images, rather than just waiting a few years when general-purpose computers would be fast enough to do the same.

Nevertheless, Fuchs wasn’t deterred.

“One of the great satisfactions is that, today, special purpose graphics chips are in every computer. They’re in just about every cell phone,” he says, pointing out that its success is proven by how much the technology is taken for granted in everyday life.

Thirty-five years later, Fuchs is still looking for ways to advance high-speed graphics, especially in virtual and augmented reality. He is particularly intrigued by how this technology could be used in eye glasses.

“Our focus today is looking at how quickly generated images will be useful 20 years from now,” he says. “While we’re working on some things that may be far ahead, we continue to be motivated by practical problems and that remains an exciting adventure.”

Creative communication

As Beth Grabowski reaches for the Spring 1992 volume of Endeavors, she bursts into laughter. Pictured on the cover is Grabowski, seated in her former art studio and surrounded by her work. She’s sporting a turquoise turtle neck under a sleeveless jumpsuit – classic ’90s attire.

“I still have those earrings,” Grabowski says between chuckles. “It’s interesting looking at these pictures. It does remind me of what I was doing back then, and there is a through-line, but comparing then to now seems really radically different.”

Nearly three decades ago, Grabowski sat down with Endeavors to discuss her work exploring society’s expectations of women and how women navigate those expectations.

Examples of her projects are scattered throughout the story. One is a pastel and charcoal piece depicting a doll fleeing from lit matches. Another is a photograph of a nude male’s back paired with a relief print of what looks to be knotted fabric, mimicking his posture.

In the 1992 article, Grabowski said her work was about “the nature of moral choice, that dilemma between your actions and someone else’s feelings or well-being.”

These days, a current project also plays on that theme. Grabowski uses a typewriter and carbon paper to recreate archived complaint, or “dear sir,” letters.

“My work has always dealt with communication in some way. My work then was much more narrative. Now I’m much more interested in the abstraction of language, and also what is unsaid rather than said –– things that are implied in the gaps and layers of language.”

When it comes to communication of research, Grabowski emphasizes the importance of outlets like Endeavors.

“I think the idea of celebrating what we do at Chapel Hill and expanding the idea of what research is to include creative research, that’s just so rich,” she says. “And I would put our best up against anybody’s best.”

 

Bereket Habte Selassie is an emeritus professor of law and African, African American, and diaspora studies within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, and fellow at the African Academy of Sciences. Henry Fuchs is a professor of computer science within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and adjunct professor within the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. Beth Grabowski is a professor of art within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences.