Fall 2007

UVM NOTEBOOK

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  Illustration by Suzy LeGault

Bright ideas
Campus strives for a deeper shade of green

Reducing the University of Vermont’s collective carbon footprint, creating a “greener” green and gold, depends on gestures large and small, acts that will make a difference decades from now and acts with immediate impact. Ample evidence of this was displayed this summer, when President Daniel Mark Fogel signed a pledge that placed UVM among a vanguard of colleges and universities committed to sharply reducing and eventually eliminating their institutions’ global warming emissions. While the president was making that big picture pledge on behalf of the University, the newest members of the campus community, incoming first-year students attending “waste-free” orientation events, were making a difference with acts as simple as tucking into their picnic potato salad with biodegradable forks. Read on for a closer look at these and other new environmental initiatives under way on campus.

A PLEDGE
“Beacons for societal change,” is how President Fogel described the role colleges and universities can take in reducing global warming emissions. Fogel put his signature on the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a pledge that calls for institutions  to sharply reduce and eventually eliminate their own global warming emissions and to accelerate research and educational efforts designed to equip society to re-stabilize the Earth’s climate.

The Presidents’ Climate Commitment is the first such effort by any major sector of society to set climate neutrality—not just a reduction—as its target. To date, 294 American colleges and universities have signed on.

“UVM already has a large number of green practices in place; it only makes sense for us to build on this foundation and challenge ourselves to reach the next level,” Fogel said. “Because we serve so many young people at a formative period in their lives, and because we are beacons for societal change in many ways, colleges and universities can have an impact on global warming far beyond our campuses and for years to come. We’re privileged to be among those leading the way in this effort.”

As a first step, UVM is conducting an audit of its carbon footprint. Once the audit is completed, in fall 2007, and the University has studied the results, the planning process will begin.

The pledge also requires UVM to take two concrete steps in the short term to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. To fulfill this measure, the University will raise its existing green building standards to the LEED Silver level or its equivalent in new construction and major renovations. Currently, UVM buildings must be built or renovated to the most basic level of LEED, the green building standards created by the U.S. Green Building Council. UVM will also encourage further use of public transportation among faculty, students, and staff. These efforts and others included in the plan will build on a variety of existing programs at the University designed to promote sustainability.

WASTE NOT
Summer orientation programs bring approximately 2,500 new students and their families to campus for a series of six two-day sessions in June. That adds up to more than ten thousand meals served over the course of the events. It’s an impressive bit of hosting by any account, but all the more so when you consider that Orientation 2007 managed it without sending much more than a few potato chip bags to the landfill. Zero waste was the goal and organizers pretty much pulled it off.

“Initially, we thought it would be way too hard to do,” said Jill Hoppenjans G’00, assistant director of Orientation. “The reality is that it’s been much easier. It took some planning, but Erica Spiegel (solid waste and recycling manager) and dining services worked with us and made it seem easy. I thought it might be too confusing for parents in terms of where to put stuff, but the lack of complaints said a lot. I think people were glad to see UVM put its commitment to the environment into action.”

Totally compostable food-service ware was used in place of traditional plastic eating utensils for the orientation events held on the Chittenden-Buckham-Wills green. The drink cups and utensils were made of cornstarch; coffee cups were biodegradable; and the compostable plates and trays were made of plain, uncoated paper. Other green choices included coffee stirrers made of wood rather than the usual plastic, unbleached paper napkins; toothpicks, and bottles for condiments instead of individual packets. Leftover food went into a compost container.

Given this summer’s results, expect to see more waste-free events in UVM’s future. “It’s not feasible for some indoor events, but it makes sense to do for a number of high profile special events that are held outdoors,” said Spiegel. “It hasn’t been nearly as difficult as a lot of people thought because everyone worked together to make it happen.”

ON THE BUS
One more bus on the road, many fewer cars left at home has always been an environmentally sound transportation trade-off. As a number of pioneering bus lines have converted to biodiesel fuels and other innovative practices, the green attractions of taking the bus have grown.

In June, UVM Extension unveiled a first-of-its-kind green certification program for commercial motorcoaches, a measure that promises to encourage and promote green practices in this segment of the transportation sector that carries more travelers each year than the airlines, or Amtrak and commuter rail combined.

UVM Extension awarded the first Green Coach Certification (GCC) to Lamoille Valley Transportation of Morrisville, Vermont. Lamoille Valley offsets all of its carbon emissions, averages over 250 passenger miles per gallon, and runs its entire fleet of school buses and luxury motorcoaches on a blend of biodiesel. LVT saw a significant increase in sales after it began promoting its green practices to customers.
“We’re proud to be recognizing LVT’s strong commitment to the environment, stimulating growth in Vermont’s growing green business sector, and helping launch a program that could significantly reduce carbon emissions in our state and outside it,” said Douglas Lantagne ’77, dean of UVM Extension.

Vermont is home to another motorcoach company, Bristol Tours, that also helped inspire the creation of the GCC program, Lantagne said. Bristol pioneered the use of biofuels within the motorcoach sector, the first company in the state to do so and one of the first in the nation.

The UVM pilot program— designed by Extension staff Lisa Chase and David Kestenbaum G’02—will make GCC certifications available to motorcoach operators across North America. Research surrounding the effectiveness of the GCC pilot is being conducted as part of a “signature” project in sustainable tourism by the new University of Vermont Transportation Center. After the pilot program is incubated at UVM, University officials anticipate it will be handed off to an independent group that would act as the certifying body, Lantagne said.

UVM researchers think the program could achieve the kind of success for the motorcoach industry that organic food certification programs have attained, expanding awareness and driving up sales. “The program will allow consumers interested in green transportation to connect with the greenest providers,” said Kestenbaum.

Just 2 questions
If the topic of weather seems more safe than scintillating, talk to Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux; it makes her positively giddy. “I get excited by anything that happens outside,” says this associate geography professor and state climatologist. But studying climatic complexities is serious work, and her myriad jobs include helping state agencies prepare for meteorological hazards from droughts to floods. VQ caught Dupigny-Giroux after a record-breaking scorcher in May. Among the obvious questions, what does that portend—and what might global warming mean for Vermont?

Q. Being climatologist in a state where so much depends upon weather—farming, foliage, skiing, maple syrup—how concerned are you about global warming and the potential effects here?

A. Our vulnerability is a concern, which we’re already seeing in the farming community. A particularly wet season can start a viral effect, inability to get into the fields in time and when you can they’re waterlogged. If more of these shifts occur, a lot of Vermonters would be severely impacted.

The ski industry is interesting. I came across records on Mad River Glen—immediately following construction in the 1940s they had five years without snow. So we can learn from the past; it’s happened before. There have been years of boom and bust. When you think about large snowfalls like we had in the early seventies, those may not have been as typical as some other years.

There are so many unknowns with global warming. Are you going to get the same type of snow? You know, the type of snow depends on the temperature in which it’s formed. Are the characteristics going to change because you’re changing the vertical temperature structure of the atmosphere? What are the variables due to pollution? So you take your current understanding of snow physics and ask: Will snowflakes stick together more? Will they fall differently? Those are some of the big, big questions that need to be addressed. I’d love to hear what Snowflake Bentley would have said about this.

Q. You’re working on a grant-funded study to research climate change in Vermont over the last two centuries. What are you finding and why is this melding of history and science so compelling for you?

A. It excites me to find unexpected things, to find people two hundred years ago who were as passionate about drought as I am. It’s the way they write: “As sharp a drought as I’ve ever seen.” And now I’m faced with teasing out if that’s human perception or climatic. It’s challenges like that that give you the juice to keep on—it’s getting to the bottom of these questions that seem small, but when you start digging they’re multilayered and multifaceted.

I’m looking back at the droughts that occurred in the 1800s and 1900s and working on a way to quantify their severity because they didn’t have the sophisticated metrics that we use today. Farmers kept weather journals—they needed to be closely tied to what was going on—but often I’ll discover one that starts in October and goes until April. So how do you fill in those gaps?

My sense is that these droughts were more severe than we’ve been seeing in the last fifty years. But why, if they occurred during a cooler climate? Hot temperatures tend to exacerbate drought. What would that say about the landscape and the atmosphere that caused them?

Ever since the seventies, we’ve actually had more floods as a natural hazard, but if you look at the previous few decades drought was a bigger problem. We tend to forget what’s existed before and think only of the things we’re currently battling. The interesting thing about Vermont is you can go from flood to drought in the same year; it can flip-flop like that, at the drop of a hat. I haven’t seen too many places where you can actually have that happening… In New England, everybody who lives here knows there’s only one word to describe the weather: changeable.   

—Interview by Lee Ann Cox

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Photo by Sabin Gratz '98

Top Honors
One is a driven activist for environmental and social justice who began trying to change UVM’s Honors College nearly the second she arrived on campus. The other is a mathematician, a self-described nerd, inspired by the possibilities of applying her knowledge to medical research and public health.

Both seniors, Kesha Ram and Laura Balzer, joined the University’s Honors College as first-year students in August 2004—members of the new program’s inaugural or, as Balzer calls it, “guinea pig” class.

While their talents and their approaches differ, Ram’s and Balzer’s life goals are united by the desire to make a positive difference on issues that matter. They’ve also found similar success at UVM, both earning highly competitive national scholarships last spring which place them among the most academically outstanding undergrads in the United States.
 
Ram, a native of Santa Monica, California, worked within the Honors College to enhance diversity as the fledgling initiative began to build enrollment and shape curriculum. Beyond the HC, she dug deep into her work toward a dual degree in natural resource planning and political science. With her election as Student Government Association president last spring, Ram’s commitment to making a difference broadens University-wide. “Coming here I’ve been rewarded for the things I’d been punished for in high school, which was trying to make change,” she says. After graduation, Ram’s Harry S. Truman Scholarship will likely help fund law school. She’s hoping to return to the West Coast to study at Berkeley or Stanford, where the schools’ law curricula and the state’s policies are on the cutting edge of environmental justice.

When Laura Balzer met math, it may not have been love at first sight, but it was “love at long division,” at the very least, she says. At UVM, Balzer found a close-knit home away from home at the Honors College, where then Dean Robert Taylor would become a mentor to her. A summer abroad program in Ecuador working with malnourished children following her sophomore year was a turning point for Balzer. “I’ve never been cold, hungry, in need. It really kindled my desire to help others and realize the potential of math and science to improve preventive care,” Balzer says. She’s gotten a start on that ambition at UVM through research with Professor Daniel Bentil on creating mathematical models of blood coagulation. A Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is helping fund Balzer’s final year at UVM and she sees graduate school down the road, but not just yet. First, she envisions more work in Latin America, possibly through Doctors Without Borders. “I’m not ready to spend another five years in the library,” she says. “When I go to grad school I want to go because I’m driven, not just because it’s the next step.”

—Thomas Weaver

Big night
The evening of August 26 was a rare experience for thousands of members of the UVM community who streamed down Main Street as a low late-summer moon hung over the Davis Center and the Taiko Drummers pounded out a rhythm from flatbed trucks. The procession from Patrick Gym to the Green connected two previously separate traditions— convocation and the twilight induction ceremony for UVM’s entering class—which debuted as one evening-long event this year.

The success of the night hung upon participation, and for a place sometimes knocked for a lack of school spirit, there was a buzz in Patrick Gym as the Class of 2011 filed in grouped by residence hall, carrying banners and wearing their “hall colors.” By the time University leaders and guest speaker Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, took the stage, the Patrick Gym bleachers and floor were full to capacity with, seemingly, the entire entering class present.

The leadership of UVM’s Student Government Association selected Beah’s harrowing personal story of his life as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone as the foundation for UVM’s summer reading program. The program is designed to provide a shared intellectual experience for new students and opportunities for discussion on various levels across campus during the first semester.

Following convocation, the Class of 2011 and many others in Patrick Gym walked through University Heights and down Main Street, which was closed to traffic for the procession. As darkness fell over the Green, students formed a large circle, lit candles, and joined President Fogel in reading a pledge affirming the values of the University community.

Candles extinguished, the evening wasn’t over yet as students flooded the new Dudley H. Davis Student Center for a “green carpet” premiere offering a first look at the building that will be at the core of campus life during their years at UVM.         

—Thomas Weaver

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Photo courtesy of Damon Cason/Live Earth

Live Earth features Michelle Gardner-Quinn essay
The environmental ethic and personal commitment expressed in an essay written by UVM student Michelle Gardner-Quinn days before she was slain last October continues to reverberate. A short film inspired by the essay, which Gardner-Quinn wrote as part of an assignment in Professor Cecilia Danks’ environmental studies course, was shown at the New York venue for this summer’s worldwide Live Earth concerts.

The film, directed by Live Earth’s Damon Cason, features a cast of women, each standing alone in front of a black backdrop reciting excerpts of the essay while holding a framed portrait of Gardner-Quinn. The piece includes Tipper Gore; Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson; musician Sheryl Crow; actresses Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Meg Ryan, and Emily Proctor; and closes with Diane Gardner-Quinn, Michelle’s mother. The film, “This I Believe,” can be viewed on YouTube. Gardner-Quinn’s original essay is posted on Vermont Quarterly’s website—alumni.uvm.edu/vq/winter07/extra.asp—in the winter 2007 edition.


Still relevant after all these years
Professor Emeritus’s Vietnam analysis back in print

Thirty years ago on a broadcast of “Good Morning America,” UVM professor of political science Douglas Kinnard shared a national television audience with General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces during the peak of the Vietnam War. The topic of discussion: Professor Kinnard’s new book, The War Managers, a critical analysis of American involvement in Vietnam through the eyes of the U.S. Army generals charged with waging the war.

Media coverage of the volume was extensive due to how the book peeled back the strategic failure of Vietnam through facts such as this—nearly 70 percent of the Army generals who managed the war were uncertain of its objective. Also extraordinary, the credentials of the book’s author. Before earning his doctorate at Princeton and beginning his academic career at age fifty-one when he joined the UVM faculty in 1973, Kinnard was a West Point graduate and veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He retired at the rank of brigadier general after his second tour of duty in Vietnam.

Kinnard’s credibility within the military aided his research efforts as he conducted the surveys and interviews at the heart of The War Managers. “I was able to phrase the questions in the generals’ ‘language,’” Kinnard said in an interview at the time of the book’s first release. “Because I had been in their boots, they were all the more willing to respond.”

This fall, Naval Institute Press will publish a thirtieth anniversary edition of The War Managers. The author, who retired in 1984, recently spoke with VQ from his home in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. At age 86, Kinnard sounds as if he could lead a graduate seminar at a moment’s notice. Asked if people tend to call him professor or general, he replies, “Actually, most people call me Doug.” Recalling the spotlight of The War Managers’ first release, he says, “We all get our fifteen minutes of fame and that was mine. Frankly, I was a little startled. It was one of those things that came out at the right time.”

The time is again right, it seems, for The War Managers. Kinnard says he thinks parallels between Vietnam and Iraq played a role in the publisher’s motivation to print the anniversary edition. The word “Iraq” doesn’t appear in the preface Kinnard recently wrote for the new edition, but he closes with the final message of the CIA station chief as the last Americans lifted off in helicopters from the roof of the embassy: “The severity of the defeat and the circumstances of it would seem to call for a reassessment of the policies which have characterized our participation here. Those who fail to learn from history are forced to repeat it. Saigon signing off.”

Speaking on the phone in late August, the general/professor is less subtle: “If Bush knew the real lessons of Vietnam, he would get out sooner than stay.”

—Thomas Weaver

Fledgling effort
Research suggest ways to save region’s grassland birds

“These early-hayed fields are really attractive to these birds,” says Allan Strong, assistant professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, sweeping his hand across the shrub-free, rich green grass of a dairy farm south of Burlington. “But they’re future death traps.”

The birds in question, savannah sparrows and bobolinks, base their search for nesting sites on landscape cues carried from thousands of years in their history, when they lived on the prairie. But now, when they settle down in Vermont grasslands during April and May, they stand little chance of successfully raising young. Strong’s research across the Champlain Valley, funded for the past six years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, makes it clear that nearly all their nests will be wiped out by passing tractors and mowing blades before the young can fly. And with three harvests as the norm, the mowers will be back again too soon to allow adult birds to successfully re-nest.

Since the 1960s dairy farmers have moved toward earlier and more frequent hay harvests because protein levels in grass are higher in the early season. Along with development of former farmland and reversion of fields to forest, this change in hay cutting is one major reason why Northeastern grassland songbird populations have been in steep decline. Some, like Henslow’s sparrow, are in a freefall toward extinction. It’s a painful irony that several centuries of agriculture allowed grassland birds to become established from New York to Maine and several decades of agriculture may be a primary cause of their demise.
But there is reason to hope, Strong thinks, that some changes could slow and reverse the dwindling numbers of these birds.

“In May and early June the birds are really vulnerable, but if we delay the cutting beyond that, many birds can survive. We have very good nesting success for both of these species with cuts that range from late June to mid-July,” he says.

While dairy farmers have little flexibility to alter their cutting schedules—the early hay is economically critical in the cut-throat world of commodity milk prices—“some people have what used to be a hay field that’s now a house on twenty acres: they keep it clear because they like it. These are the landowners we’re really thinking of as our primary target” for implementing later hay cutting, Strong says.

And if some farmers were to make a first cut in late May and then wait sixty-five days, the delay “could provide enough time for both species to successfully fledge young,” Perlut and Strong and their colleagues reported in the December 2006 edition of Ecological Applications.

Getting the word out to farmers and other landowners is a critical next step in protecting the birds’ habitat, Strong says. “We’ve got most of the basic biology licked,” he says. “Now it’s time to go to the people and talk about management.”

—Joshua Brown


Quote Unquote
Dr. Costanza and the other researchers concluded that New Jersey’s total natural capital is worth about $18 billion per year. Nature, he says, turns out to be about as economically valuable to New Jersey as the state’s construction industry.

From a May 21 New York Times article reporting on a study by UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics which put a dollar value on New Jersey’s natural resources. The report was commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.


Task force studies needs for recreation, events space
Students returning to campus in fall 1961 were greeted by a state-of-the-art athletic facility that would usher in the modern era of basketball and hockey, as well as play host to some of the biggest names in entertainment. The Patrick-Forbush-Gutterson complex would also enhance student life by providing more space for a wide array of activities.   
 
Carl Lisman ’67, chair of UVM’s Board of Trustees, remembers the opening of Patrick Gymnasium from his high school years in Burlington. Lisman, though, is looking more forward than backward these days and thinks the time has come to build a facility worthy of the growing student population (three times larger than the 3,400 students that attended in his day), and their increased need for recreation-based facilities.

“It’s pretty clear that UVM has outgrown its physical wellness facilities,” Lisman says. “We haven’t made any significant upgrades in four decades. It’s time to consider what should be done about this. We’re far behind our peers and competitor schools who have recognized that students need recreational facilities.”

Hence Lisman’s call for the creation of the Campus Life Task Force II (Task Force I investigated the need for a student center) to look into the matter. The group, which will present its finding to trustees in February, is chaired by Ian Boyce ’89 and includes faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees. Its charge: determine the level of need, if any, for a center with a focus on the areas of special events, student health and well-being, varsity athletics, and student recreational activities.

 “We’ll meet with constituents from all those groups and use an evaluative measure to compare our physical space to our peer groups and to determine our needs as a campus,” says Boyce, a UVM Athletic Hall of Fame hockey player. “There’s a perception out there that this is only about building an arena, but we have a lot of other needs as well. We want to present all the possibilities to the board. This is a formidable challenge.” 

Based on its findings, the task force will present recommendations on three of the project’s most critical components: cost, size, and location.

—Jon Reidel G’06

Good turns
Three recent visitors to UVM—Laurie David, who produced the film An Inconvenient Truth, Native American activist Winona LaDuke, and forest ecologist Jerry Franklin—have more in common than concern for the environment. They have one of Ralph Tursini’s humble bowls. Turned on a lathe at UVM’s Research Forest in Jericho, and cut from a cherry tree harvested there, these bowls are finished with nothing more than a chisel and perhaps a swipe of tung oil.

For Tursini, Class of 1999—who teaches a one-credit course, “Conservation and Wood Turning”—each bowl is the artful extension of his degree in forestry. For David Brynn ’76 G’91, who directs UVM’s new Green Forestry Education Initiative, the bowls show students one path from forest to finished product. And for the University, these humble bowls make a distinctly Vermont gift for distinguished visitors.


UVM SHELFLIFE

Delving into disaster
Alumnus seeks truth about ill-fated McKinley climb

Jim Tabor ’70 downplays his lone attempt to climb Alaska’s Mount McKinley. Turning back at about 14,500 feet on the 20,320-foot peak was “kind of like stubbing your toe on McKinley,” Tabor says. Full disclosure, it was an ill-advised plan hatched over a couple of beers in an Anchorage bar, he says, a quick substitute when he and his climbing partner’s plans to ascend and ski down Alaska’s more remote Mount Sanford were scotched by their inability to line up a bush pilot. So, off they went to nearby McKinley, where they persisted for twelve days until they ran out of food, fuel, toilet paper, and the psychological focus the mountain demands. “I didn’t really understand what McKinley was,” Tabor says.

Mere chagrin is a relatively happy ending for underestimating the rigors of a peak that serves up fierce challenges through its elevation, northern latitude, and vulnerability to Bering Sea-brewed storms. The fate of the 1967 Wilcox expedition on McKinley (now commonly known as Denali, the mountain’s Inuit name) was far worse. Twelve strong young men took on the mountain and seven of them died on McKinley’s upper reaches when a devastating storm hit. The tragedy, which remains North America’s greatest mountaineering disaster, is the subject of Tabor’s new book, Forever on the Mountain (W.W. Norton).

An experienced outdoor writer with credits in magazines from Smithsonian to Outside, Tabor was initially drawn to the story when he read an account by one of the survivors, Howard Snyder’s The Hall of the Mountain King. The book was largely an indictment of the leadership of Joe Wilcox, the man who headed the expedition. Wilcox would publish his own book, White Winds, a clear defense of his leadership, fourteen years after the disaster. After reading both accounts, Tabor says he thought to himself, “the truth is probably somewhere in-between,” and he set out to find it.

Tabor researched government records, explored forensic meteorology to address lingering questions about the severity of the storm that blasted the climbers, and interviewed survivors. While the raw physical threats of McKinley closed in on the expedition near the summit, the climbers’ every step was haunted by forces less harrowing—petty ego clashes, bureaucratic bungling—but nearly as dangerous to their fate. In telling the expedition’s tragic story, Tabor draws on narrative skills first honed in UVM creative writing classes with Professor T. Alan Broughton and creates a riveting book worthy of a place on the shelf with Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air or Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm.           

—Thomas Weaver

For an interview with Jim Tabor, go to Online Only...


Get Rich With Options: Four Winning Strategies Straight from the Exchange Floor
Lee Lowell ’89, Wiley

UVM alum and self-employed stock and commodity trader Lee Lowell’s first book helps readers demystify the market by showing how options are an important part of today’s investment portfolio. In Get Rich With Options, Lowell reveals the four best options trading strategies, which pose less risk and require less cost with a higher return, he says, than outright stock and commodity trades.

The Ghost in Allie’s Pool
Sari Bodi ’76, Brown Barn Books

In a new novel that spans the genres of young adult and historical fiction, alumna Sari Bodi tells the story of eighth-grader Allie who meets the ghost of Dorothy May Bradford, a Mayflower passenger, who in 1620 either jumped or fell from the historic ship. Bradford’s story was one Bodi had heard from her own mother, a genealogy enthusiast. Bodi, whose short stories, essays, comedy sketches and plays have been published and performed in the United States and England, weaves Allie and Dorothy’s stories together, producing unique perspectives on contemporary teenage life as well as the experiences of the colonists who crossed the Atlantic.

Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
Johanna Rothman  ’77,
The Pragmatic Bookshelf

Software project managers and team members will learn how to navigate the demands and risks of their projects from expert consultant and writer, alumna Johanna Rothman. With a focus on flexibility and a belief that there is no one true way to manage a project, Rothman provides insight into helpful practices in software development, from chartering to release, covering topics including how to best report status to management and defining the testing process along the way.

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