The World Comes to Oakland

Issue Date: 
September 30, 2009

The G-20 Pittsburgh Summit brought heads of state and other dignitaries to Pitt’s campus, as well as numerous journalists. And while the Downtown streets surrounding the David L. Lawrence Convention Center were ghostly quiet because of a Secret Service-imposed security perimeter, the streets of Oakland were bustling. A few scenes follow.

The Old Incorporates the New

Dressed in blue jeans and sporting a hip thin-brimmed hat, Tommy Yoo seemed an unlikely person to be featured in a Korean festival. Surrounded by Korean men and women wearing brightly colored native dress, the 25-year-old Korean man stood near an opening in the crowd and then broke into dance—a break-dance, to be precise.

Yoo kicked up his heels and held his taut body aloft in a one-arm handstand. Then, he collapsed effortlessly into a roll onto the hard, large gray stone floor  of the Cathedral of Learning’s Commons Room. Without missing a beat, he contorted his body so it rose back up into the air feet first and used his head to spin around and around.

“Welcome, Korea, to the Pittsburgh Summit,” read a banner above an arched doorway in the Commons Room, which was the site of the Sept. 20 Korean Festival, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Nationality Rooms Program, the Korean Heritage Room Committee, and the region’s Korean community.

Food was in abundance during the festival, and the buffet featured such traditional favorites as kimchi (spicy cabbage seasoned with Korean red pepper) and bool go gi (sliced beef and vegetables seasoned with sweet Korean soy sauce).

Break dancing was just one of the acts in the entertainment lineup. Others included demonstrations of tae kwon do (Korean martial arts) and a Korean traditional wedding ceremony, as well as choirs of children and women.

As for Yoo, who piled his plate high with Korean specialties during a break, the afternoon was an opportunity to work on his burgeoning career as a disc jockey, hip-hop dance teacher, and performer. Does he hurt after using his head to spin around on the Commons Room floor? “Well, you have to know [the pain] is coming. I’m used to it now. We [break-dancers] stretch a lot before going to bed.”

A few minutes later, Yoo quietly sauntered out of the Commons Room. No doubt, he would have some stretching to do later that evening.

Prominent Footsteps of Her Own

The G-20 Summit brought Sharon Epperson back to her childhood playground—and to the academic stomping grounds of her father, David E. Epperson (A&S ’61, ’70,  ‘75G, SOC WK ’64), who was dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work from 1972 to 2001. Sharon Epperson’s mother, Cecilia Trower Epperson (BS ’57, MS ’62), is also a Pitt alumnus. While Pitt’s campus was her father’s home away from home, Sharon Epperson said she remembers growing up and spending many childhood days on Pitt’s campus.

As a correspondent for CNBC-TV, Sharon Epperson covers the global energy and commodities markets daily from the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange and also covers personal finance. She graduated cum laude from Harvard University and also received a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. Epperson was in town last week to cover the summit, and she visited Pitt on Sept. 21 to participate in a media panel organized by Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration.

How did it feel to be back in Pittsburgh with the city in the world’s limelight? “When I first heard that Pittsburgh was selected to host the summit, I wondered if it was ready. But having been here over the past two days, I now know it’s ready. We’ve been through many crises and have survived. It’s great to be here,” she said during a pre-panel reception in the University Club’s Fraternity Grill.

About 100 students, alumni, and visitors attended the media panel, which also featured Jeffrey Ballou, deputy news editor of Al Jazeera English; Kevin Carmichael, economics reporter for Toronto’s The Globe and Mail; and Dan Simpson, an associate editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The event was part of Katz’s monthlong celebration of the G-20 member countries, with spotlights and forums on the role of the G-20 in the global economy.

To hear Epperson’s report on the Summit, visit

BST 3 Opens Its Doors

German journalist Adrienne Woltersdorf said she was happy to be in Pittsburgh covering the G-20 Summit. As the Washington bureau chief for the Berlin-based Die Tageszeitung, Woltersdorf has friends in Pittsburgh and said she has visited many times during her four years in Washington.

Speaking flawless English and asking numerous questions, Woltersdorf was one of several journalists who took a Sept. 21 tour of Pitt’s Biomedical Science Tower 3.

The $205.5 million, state-of-the-art research facility is home to 50 laboratories and 500 researchers who are working on advanced medical therapies for such diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkison’s, as well as “orphan diseases,” which affect small numbers of people but are often prevalent in the developing world. The tower offers stunning views of the campus and beyond—and includes hallway floors patterned in colors to represent different mouse chromosomes.
Arthur S. Levine, Pitt senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, welcomed tour participants, explaining that many of the building’s scientists are structural, computational, or developmental biologists. Much of their work focuses on exploring the structure and function of a variety of biologic molecules and, in particular, proteins: “If we are ever to design new drugs or vaccines, we need to know what these proteins look like,” Levine said.

Tweeting and Eating

In this era of 24/7 communication—e-mailing, tweeting, texting—editors expect journalists to be filing constantly. Even when nothing is happening. Take the

Sept. 24 speech by José Manuel Barroso during a by-invitation-only luncheon in Alumni Hall’s J.W. Connolly Ballroom. Reporters, who were seated around the room’s perimeter, had been told that Pitt would provide box lunches for them. The food was available in an upstairs lounge before and after the event, but no eating was allowed in the ballroom. So while the estimated 250 guests enjoyed their sit-down lunch, assembled journalists remained in their seats waiting for Barroso’s speech to begin. More than one reporter could be overheard commenting about text messages they were receiving from their editors during the pause in activity: “What’s happening now? What’s going on?” several editors texted their reporters. “They’re eating, they’re eating,” was the newsy reply.

A High-tech Exchange

One corner of the 72-year-old Cathedral of Learning’s Commons Room became decidedly high-tech during a Sept. 24 address given by Russian President Dmitry A. Medvedev. Local, national, and foreign journalists and Russian delegation members joined about 300 invited Pitt faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and students for the talk. And just adjacent to a riser upon which more than a dozen videographers were clustered sat two professional interpreters.

The man and woman, seated inside a small soundproof booth with windows, used Bosch DCN interpreter consoles to translate simultaneously—United Nations-style—Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s introduction into Russian, Medvedev’s remarks into English, and the students’ questions into either Russian or English, depending on the language in which the question was asked. All the attendees received small headsets that allowed them to switch between English and Russian.

A team from the Arlington, Virginia-based ASET International Services LLC sat just below the booth, using laptops to monitor the process to ensure the two interpreters were on the correct channels. The half-million dollars worth of equipment, which took eight hours to install, had been used the previous night during a United Nations dinner in New York.

The interpreters in the booth would nod when it was time for one to relieve the other, which happened every 15 to 20 minutes.

“Simultaneous interpretation is grueling,” noted Anne Renaldi, ASET’s deputy director of conference services. “Interpreters have to listen to the source language, mentally translate, and speak in the target language simultaneously.”