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Leon Buckwalter and John Buckwalter Will Travel to Use Their Skills

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Two Alfred State College faculty members, who also happen to be brothers, will be picking up stakes temporarily to travel halfway around the world to divergent destinations.

Leon Buckwalter, assistant professor, Building Trades, and John Buckwalter, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, Physical and Health Sciences, will travel to Poland and Russia, respectively, Leon in May, and John in August, to use their skills in the service of others.

Leon BuckwalterLeon will work with an international team of students and professionals to build a replica of the Gwo?dziec Synagogue timber frame roof structure and the vaulted ceiling for permanent exhibition at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Poland as the first major element of the core exhibition for the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Leon initially went to Poland in 2003, again as part of an international team, to investigate the feasibility of the project, and, since the Nazis burned all the wooden synagogues in Poland, to look at churches of other faiths of the same time frame to get clues to tools and techniques used by builders of the time.

Now that the project has moved into its building phase, 22 crew members have been chosen worldwide, from eight different countries; Leon is one of 12 Americans on the team. The program calls for a true historic replication of the synagogue using period-appropriate tools and techniques for display in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, under construction in Warsaw. The project runs from May 23 to July 1.

This project, which will also serve as a credit-bearing studio course, is open to beginning and advanced students from all disciplines but particularly students of art, architecture, history, anthropology, Jewish studies, material culture, building arts, international studies, and Polish language.

Leon will travel to Poland with the students and other professionals where they will create an 85% scale replica of the timber roof structure from the now lost 17th century wooden Gwo?dziec Synagogue. The project includes the very ornate duplication of the painting of the interior of the roof dome, which will take 18 months compared to the six-week construction schedule. All of the nearly 200, 17th and 18th century wooden synagogues built throughout the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth were destroyed by the end of World War II, yet the vernacular wooden architectural styles - both aesthetically and structurally – are still apparent in many other existing wooden structures in Poland.

Students will start arriving in groups of 15 or so for two-week rotations starting a week after the instructors’ arrival. The group will begin by visiting significant historic sites in Krakow, the former seat of the Polish monarchy, and see significant sites in the surrounding areas of Malopolska -- the UNESCO sites -- Wielczka Salt Mines, 13th c., and Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

They will also travel through the southeastern region and visit several significant examples of 16th-18th century wooden architecture of Malopolska and Podkarpackie.

Scheduled to open in 2012, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will present the 1,000-year history of Polish Jews and the civilization that they created. Understandably, the Shoah and the void that it has left have overshadowed this story. By presenting the civilization that Jews created in the very place where they created it, the Museum will convey the enormity of what was lost. Standing on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will honor those who died by remembering how they lived.

The Museum, the first public-private partnership of its type in Poland and joint effort of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, the Government of Poland, and the City of Warsaw, will fulfill its educational mission not only through its Core Exhibition, but also through it Educational Centre, public programs, and facilities, including a resource center, mediateque, large auditorium, two cinematheques, rooms for conferences and workshops, and galleries for temporary and traveling exhibitions. Total space is about 12.000 m2, including 4.000 m2 for the Core Exhibition. In the Museum’s multi-media narrative exhibition, which is more a “theatre of history” than a conventional exhibition of objects, visitors will discover the vibrancy of what was once the largest Jewish community in the world and center of the Jewish Diaspora. The single most spectacular element in the Core Exhibition will be the Gwozdiec wooden synagogue ceiling and roof.

Handshouse Studio, through which this program is offered, is a not-for-profit, innovative, educational organization that creates adventurous hands-on projects through community-service, building projects with non-profit partners around the world and is a Cooperating Institute with the Massachusetts College of Art and Design Professional and Continuing Education Program. Handshouse creates projects outside of the traditional classroom that energize history through the reconstruction of large historical objects.

Leon’s career has centered around building things; his experiences led to an interest in timber framing and an offshoot of his contracting business, called Ischua Valley Timber Frames. Along with this came membership in an approximately 2,000-member world-wide organization called the Timber Framers Guild, then a seat on its Board of Directors, and eventually vice presidency of the Guild.

Leon pursued historic log and/or timber frame projects, which generally had connections to people, places, and events of long ago. An interest in and collection of antique wood-working tools led to investigation of how those tools were used by yesterday’s master craftsmen. Gaining proficiency with those tools has opened doors to projects where the end product, or structure built, is sometimes no more important than demonstrating and passing along the skills, knowledge, and techniques of our forefathers.

In 1993, Leon participated in a Timber Framers’ Guild-sponsored trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he assisted in building a timber-framed addition to a wooden-boat-building school.

Additionally, Leon has participated in USDA Forest Service-funded research, resulting in "The Effects of Time on the Longevity of the Linn Run Bridges" paper. He has also published and presented throughout the Northeast.

In addition to his affiliation with the Timber Framers’ Guild, Leon is also a member of the boards of the NYS Barn Coalition and the Preservation Trades Network.

In 2001 Leon was hired at Alfred State College to develop and teach courses in historic preservation and timber framing. He remains active in the Timber Framers Guild and the Traditional Timber Frame Research and Advisory Group. He holds a degree in construction engineering technology from Alfred State.

John D. BuckwalterJohn D. Buckwalter, who was awarded the Fulbright Community College Faculty Award for teaching in Russia, will share his extensive two-year college teaching and administrative experience with colleagues and students at a similar institution in Russia. He is the fourth Alfred State College professor in the 60-year history of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship program to receive this honor. (Earlier ASC recipients included Yogendra (Yogi) Jonchhe, Mechanical Engineering Technology Department, 2009; Dr. Eunice Davis, Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, 1992-93; and Professor William D. Sheehan, Electrical Engineering Technology Department, 1991-92.)

Although the details of his assignment are still being worked out, he says that he will be teaching for the fall semester at Astrakhan State Technical University (ASTU) in Astrakhan, Russia. Astrakhan is a city of about 500,000 at the south end of the Volga River near where it enters the Caspian Sea. ASTU has about 7,000 students in a variety of technical programs at the bachelor's and master's level. They have an English Web site at http://astu.astu.org/en/.

“I expect to participate in several ways in which the needs of the host institution and my experience intersect,” says John, “including teaching, developing new courses and/or programs, sharing pedagogical approaches and experience with educational technologies, assisting with student exchanges, and in general working together to increase understanding between our countries and cultures.”

John’s contribution to ASTU will be enhanced by the experiences he brings to his host institution, including considerable international education experience: three years of high school teaching in Ethiopia, and leading six college study tours to Costa Rica, learning to work with students whose first language is not English, and to function as a cultural ambassador.

“My teaching experience in Ethiopia was especially important in developing ways to effectively communicate and work with students whose first language was not English, and I would continue to apply those approaches in this project. With students at any level and in any cultural setting I have found it very helpful to illustrate lectures with personal experiences (theirs and mine) and to make connections of theoretical material with real life applications. I constantly watch for current events, both international and local, that can be tied in with course material.”

Buckwalter’s pedagogy has been recognized by the State University of New York (SUNY), not once, but twice: he was the recipient of the State University of New York Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and was promoted to the rank of Distinguished Teaching Professor as an outstanding teacher at a public college of technology.

More than 25 years of college teaching experience in several biological sub-disciplines (general biology, genetics, microbiology, human anatomy & physiology, botany, environmental science) as well as in introductory chemistry and first aid affords him versatility in instructional settings.

Buckwalter also boasts administrative experience, having served as interim dean of School of Arts & Sciences, including related leadership in program development and assessment. In this role, he also oversaw development and approval of bachelor-level programs in forensic science, nursing, and human services management.

During his eight years as chair of Physical and Life Sciences Department, which is ostensibly 50% teaching and 50% administrative, John taught in the disciplines of biology and chemistry. Related administrative duties during that time included faculty development and evaluation, program assessment, and student recruitment.

Additionally, John chaired the Faculty Senate Curriculum Development and Academic Affairs Committees which afforded him a working knowledge of academic regulations and program requirements, including accreditation agency requirements.

Because John has always enjoyed building relationships with students, both native and international, outside of the classroom, he becomes involved in some student activities, including serving as co-adviser for the college's International Club, and academic adviser to many international students. In these capacities he serves as a cultural broker and helps students navigate our system of higher education.

At the conclusion of the project, John anticipates “having a rich supply of new illustrations and material for teaching at Alfred State. I would offer to share my experiences formally and informally with classes and groups on campus and in the community. I also expect to serve as a liaison for future student and faculty exchanges and other cooperative ventures between the host institution and my own college.”

Buckwalter, a member of the Alfred State College faculty since 1982, holds a master of arts degree in biology, with an emphasis in ecology, from SUNY Geneseo, and a bachelor of science degree in biology, with a minor in chemistry, from Houghton College. He has participated in several National Science foundation research workshops, and has authored or co-authored several articles over his academic career. He is, or has been, a member of the Allegany County (NY) Public Health Advisory Board, 2002-08, Empire State Association of Two-Year College Biologists, and American Scientific Affiliation.

For more than 60 years, Fulbright scholars have been advising businesses, governments, and other organizations on a broad range of science and technology issues. Since its creation in 1946, the goal of the exchange program has been to honor top scientists and promising young professionals by providing opportunities to conduct research and share their knowledge, while also serving a broader public interest - increasing mutual understanding among nations.