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February 16, 2001
Volume 38, No. 11


For some, work at Iowa is a family matter
Cultural diversity festival promotes global intersections
Handy site lets faculty and staff check benefits on-line
Minimizing risky business: Cook and cohorts offer help
Westward ho! Museum plays host to Smithsonian collection of art

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For some, work at Iowa is a family matter

Joan Kjaer Kirkman and Jackie Kjaer. Photo by Kirk Murray.

When Jackie Kjaer was two years old, her older sister Joan Kjaer Kirkman ran over her with a bike. It was an accident—Joan says she couldn’t resist her sister’s big brown eyes when she pleaded with Joan to let her ride on the bike’s handlebars.

Jackie, who was unharmed, doesn’t hold the incident against her sibling. In fact, Joan, program director at KSUI, is one of the reasons Jackie, a secretary in the Office of the Vice President for Research, continues working for The University of Iowa.

While some people might prefer not to work in close proximity to their brother or sister, there are at least three pairs of siblings on campus who agree that it makes life at the University richer.

"I had a great opportunity to go to Madison to work on an international medical journal several years back," says Jackie, who at the time worked in the Department of Pathology. "But it came down to the fact that my family is here."

Joan and Jackie, who are six years apart and have two other sisters, grew up in Mason City but moved to Iowa City as a family when Joan was a senior in high school. All four sisters attended, and eventually worked for, the University. Their mother, Ruth, recently retired after more than 20 years with the pathology department.

Jackie tunes into Joan’s radio program on KSUI every morning.

"I’ll call her with my concerns if she sounds like she has a cold," Jackie says. "Oftentimes, people in my office will ask me if I can find out what music Joan’s playing."

Joan and Jackie talk every day and get together at least every other week for a meal. They also share a weakness for shopping, notes Joan.

"It’s definitely a plus to have a sister who works on campus," says Joan, who sometimes vacations with Jackie. "We have the same kind of work concerns and the same connections, and we don’t have to start our conversations from scratch."

Tadeu and Benjamin Coelheo. Photo by Kirk Murray.

Not only do siblings Tadeu and Benjamin Coelho both work for the University, they both have faculty appointments in the School of Music—Tadeu as an associate professor of flute and Benjamin as an assistant professor of bassoon. A week can go by, however, without the two seeing each other.

"We are both so busy that even though Tadeu’s office is just down the hall, I don’t see him that much," Benjamin says. "Sometimes we’ll bump into each other in the mail room."

The musicians, who are three and a half years apart, were born and raised in Brazil. Along with their two brothers, Luis and Carlos, they came to the United States with scholarships to the State University of New York-Purchase. Tadeu was hired by Iowa in 1997, and a year later, a bassoon position opened up.

Though their schedules often keep them apart at work, Tadeu and Benjamin make time to perform together in a faculty woodwind quintet and arrange weekly family gatherings.

"We’re both raising our children to be bilingual, so we try to encourage them to speak Portuguese when they play together," says Benjamin, whose daughter is the same age as Tadeu’s son. "We’ll get together for dinner. Tadeu likes to show me his new computer gadgets."

Tadeu says he has a close relationship with his brother and that before Benjamin was hired at Iowa, the two spoke weekly.

"Growing up, there was always competition between us, even though we play different instruments," Tadeu recalls. "For example, if I won a competition, then two years later he had to win it. It was a healthy competition, though."

While having family nearby is an advantage, working in the same academic area can sometimes be a disadvantage. Both say they feel awkward, for example, when the committees they serve on discuss their brother’s discipline.

"It can create professional difficulties," Tadeu says. However, Benjamin adds, "we try to keep it separate."

One way they can accomplish that at work, they say, is to talk to each other in English, rather than their native Portuguese.

"It doesn’t feel like he’s my brother when we talk in English. It’s like we are working with colleagues," Benjamin says.

  Vincent and Victor Rodgers. Photo by Kirk Murray.

When word gets to Victor Rodgers, associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, that he has snubbed someone, perhaps a student or a faculty member, he realizes right away that someone must have run into his identical twin brother, Vincent, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

"Every so often, I’ll get these reports of snobbishness. He keeps forgetting he has a twin on campus," Victor sighs.

Vincent recalls a similar incident at a New Jersey airport when a man approached him on the assumption he was Victor and wouldn’t believe otherwise until Vincent produced his driver’s license. To make matters more confusing, especially in academic publications, the two share the same initials—VGJR.

The St. Louis natives, who were born one minute apart in a cesarean birth, have always been interested in science.

"Our mom was a nurse, and she would ask her staff if they had old radio parts, and then she’d bring home a box of stuff that we took apart and put back together," Vincent recalls.

The two completed their undergraduate degrees at the University of Dayton but went their separate ways for graduate school. When Victor came to campus in 1989 for a job interview, it wasn’t long before University officials turned their attention to Vincent.

"It was kind of happenstance—I wouldn’t have thought to come here," Vincent says. "When Victor was interviewing for a position on the engineering faculty, he noticed there were no faculty members here in high energy theory, so he told the dean of faculty, ‘If you want a guy just like me, my twin brother is a physicist.’ "

Victor and Vincent manage to see each other nearly every day, playing racquetball and lifting weights together. They also tutor high school students on Tuesday evenings at the Iowa City Community School District’s Alternative High School. They can tell each other anything, and when one has a car in the shop, he’ll borrow the other’s vehicle.

"There’s no competition between us, because I’m better than him," teases Vincent. Motioning toward his brother, Victor replies, "His mind is starved to do deeper things in life."

Article by Sara Epstein


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