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May / June 2008
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Reefs at Risk
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Wednesday, 07 May 2008

Is coral on the brink of extinction?

Behind a set of passcard-protected doors in the basement of Corson Hall, 1,000 gallons of artificial seawater flow through four fiberglass tanks teeming with life. Two dozen species of coral from around the world thrive in the tanks, home to nine species of fish and a host of invertebrates—snails, shrimp, crabs, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and jellyfish. Scuppers dump recirculated water into the tanks to mimic wave action, while suspended lights shuttle back and forth to reproduce the sun's photosynthetic effects.

Grad student Dave Baker designed and built this artificial ecosystem that he calls "art imitating life," and he devotes a few hours every day to its maintenance. For the dozen members of ecology and evolutionary biology professor Drew Harvell's research team, these tanks provide a critical link to the life forms they study in such places as East Africa, Micronesia, Australia, the Philippines, Mexico, and Panama. Upstairs in Harvell's third-floor lab, the team uses samples from the tanks to investigate the genomic foundations of coral immunity, seeking clues to the resilience of an ancient life form that benefits humans to the tune of $30 billion annually—providing protein sources for a billion people, coastal protection from storms and erosion, and a vigorous tourism trade. (Australia credits the Great Barrier Reef alone with generating annual revenue of more than $4 billion.)

Drew Harvell
Drew Harvell

In December, Harvell and a group of sixteen fellow marine scientists issued a stark warning: unless world leaders take prompt and drastic action to stem the effects of escalating carbon dioxide emissions and rising ocean temperatures, coral reefs have less than fifty years before they join the passenger pigeon on the list of creatures driven to extinction by human activity. Science published the work, funded by the World Bank's Global Environment Facility, the same week that delegates gathered in Bali to discuss international treaties to fight global warming. "It's shocking that this is within our lifetimes," says Harvell. "We're headed for a bad bottleneck. Even if there are policy changes to immediately reduce emissions, there will still be a long lag where things won't be good for coral reefs."

coral
Endangered species: Coral, like these gorgons on Flinders Reef in Australia, may be at risk of extinction.

Each day, oceans absorb about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide, making seawater more acidic and reducing the availability of carbonate ions, essential to the spiny shells and skeletons of myriad marine creatures. In coral reefs, the effects of acid-ification look a lot like human aging—a drastic slowdown in growth followed by the transformation of solid, calcium-based structures into porous ghosts (essentially, osteoporosis). Those coral species that aren't wiped out completely, says Harvell, will survive as small polyps, not extensive colonies robust enough to slow tsunami-force waves or provide habitats for juvenile fish and a wide array of invertebrates.

To further complicate the matter, coral reefs are increasingly subject to a wealth of human insults; a combination of over-fishing, pollution, and physical damage from boat anchors and souvenir hunters has made them more susceptible to disease. In the Eighties, Caribbean reefs were transformed by an outbreak that virtually eradicated several key species. Meanwhile, extensive bleaching—in which heat-stressed coral respond to temperature spikes by expelling the symbiotic microalgae that furnish them with color and nutrients—has killed up to 90 percent of some reefs. In 2005, bleaching caused extensive damage in the Caribbean; in less than a year, centuries-old outcroppings, each larger than a tractor-trailer, simply melted away. "The level of mortality was disheartening," says Harvell. "Even though it's exactly what we predicted, it was upsetting to see the disease outbreaks and the loss of coral cover."

In the Corson Hall tanks, a half-dozen lavender sea fans sway gently in the waves, suspended from lengths of dental floss. The fans, ubiquitous in the Caribbean, are the focus of Harvell's current research on response to diseases caused by the fungus Aspergillus, which also infects humans; regions currently battling infection sport dark purple splotches. "It's a really interesting evolutionary puzzle," says Harvell, who also serves as Cornell's curator of invertebrates. "Just how does the immune system work in an invertebrate that ancient?"

A long-time admirer of the ocean's soft-bodied creatures, Harvell fell hard for coral as a grad student in zoology at the University of Washington. A St. Croix research expedition in the early Eighties—facilitated by an underwater dive lab that allowed extended observation—clinched her fascination. "I spent five days underwater, never going to the surface," she recalls. "I was hooked." As an ecologist, Harvell hesitates to offer quick fixes for the alarming trends she's seen over the course of her career. And yet, her current effort to collect baseline data on coral health at four locations around the world can't seem to stay ahead of the rapid degradation already under way. "We've started having conversations about what would happen if there were no corals," she admits, "but we're not quite ready to go there yet."

Sharon Tregaskis '95

East Meets West

ImageShowering one day in 1997, Mary Tagliaferri '88 found a lump in her right breast. It was a Stage I cancer. She had turned thirty just weeks before and was already planning to add an MD to her master's degree in traditional Chinese medicine, but breast cancer inspired her to do even more. "I was facing mortality at a young age," she says. "I decided to work on things that truly had meaning for me, because you never know how long you'll be here." Now a doctor, she has co-founded Bionovo, a pharmaceutical company with a unique niche: geared toward women, it derives drugs from medicinal Chinese herbs.

Bionovo's first medication, for hot flashes, is scheduled to undergo a final phase of FDA testing this summer and hit the market in 2010. Other drugs in development aim to treat vaginal atrophy and advanced metastatic breast cancer. "I wanted to show that traditional Chinese medicine worked in the same type of double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials that we run in Western medicine," Tagliaferri says. "If this medicine works, then you should be able to prove its efficacy in the same types of clinical models."

With ancient herbs and modern drug trials, globally trained MD aims to improve women's healthTagliaferri became interested in traditional Chinese medicine—which combines acupuncture, massage, and plant-based treatments developed over thousands of years— when a massage therapist cleared up a musculoskeletal problem with acupressure. She says its techniques seem to work best on illnesses that Western medicine treats with less success, like gastrointestinal problems, migraine, and asthma. Still, she says, Western medicine has its strengths. "If you have a broken arm, by all means, go to the emergency room and get a splint," she says. "If you have cancer, it's likely you'll benefit the most with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. But traditional Chinese medicine can help to abate the side effects from those types of rough treatments and provide overall well-being while you go through them."

Mary Tagliaferri
World health: Mary Tagliaferri '88 has both an MD and a master's degree in traditional Chinese medicine.

It may also provide an untapped source of new drugs. Many Western medicines are also derived from herbs; aspirin comes from willow tree bark, while digoxin, used to treat various heart conditions, is an extract of fox-glove. "That's been around for centuries, and it works well," says Rache Simmons, a breast cancer surgeon at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center, which is affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical College. "It's certainly not a ridiculous idea that some herbs have potentially beneficial effects." According to Tagliaferri, 72 percent of infectious disease medicines are based on natural products, as are 62 percent of chemotherapy drugs. "Combinatorial chemistry, where a scientist sits at a computer and develops chemical molecules to create drugs, hasn't been very successful. It makes sense to go back to nature, which may be far more clever than a scientist in a lab at developing potential compounds." Bionovo's drug for hot flashes comprises twenty-two herbs, including astragalus, anemarrhenae, and licorice, that link to one of the body's estrogen receptors.

Estrogen is key to women's health: too much of the hormone may cause cells to proliferate in the breast, while too little causes menopause—and problems like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis, and insomnia. Breast cancer patients are often treated with an anti-estrogen drug that induces a chemical menopause. "There's a whole host of menopausal symptoms that are extremely common and incredibly annoying, if not actually physically dangerous," says Simmons. "It's definitely a huge issue for our patients."

Bionovo grew out of a clinical research program that Tagliaferri, who majored in agricultural economics on the Hill, initiated while attending med school at the University of California, San Francisco. At UCSF, Tagliaferri developed and tested a series of herbal formulas with an unusual team: an acupuncturist who specialized in oncology and an oncologist interested in the anti-cancer properties of Tibetan herbal medicines. Eventually two drugs, for breast cancer and menopausal symptoms, showed promise in preliminary trials. In 2002, Tagliaferri and the acupuncturist, Isaac Cohen, sold their houses and founded Bionovo. One of Silicon Valley's few female entrepreneurs, she has since helped raise $50 million from investors. Now Bionovo, a public company traded on the NASDAQ, is worth $320 million.

Although Tagliaferri has been cancer-free for eleven years, she says she thinks about her fight with the disease every day. "I never thought my diagnosis would set me on a path to develop safer and more effective drugs for the disease that seemed to be ruining my life," she says. "I look back at that time and see that in many ways my personal battle with breast cancer was a gift."

— Susan Kelley

ImageLost in Translation

For graduate students, English may be the hardest subject of all

The search for his next job forced Sung-kwon "Rio" Kim to do something he dreads but has learned to endure: write in English. Crafting an e-mail to an alumna of the Johnson Graduate School of Management, where he is a second-year MBA student, Kim debated word combinations foreign to his native Korean. Should he use "of" or "for"? "The company" or "your company"? What was the right verb—and what tense should that verb be?

Kim knows from his work in consulting and investment banking in Seoul that English has become the international language of business. But its nuances elude him. "If I want to get a job in the U.S., I need good communication skills," says the thirty-one-year-old, adding that he is concerned about his speaking ability but more so about his writing—even after three semesters at Cornell.

Of Cornell's 6,000 graduate students, some 2,100 are non-native English speakers; although they've all scored well enough on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to be admitted, some still struggle. Part of the problem, administrators say, is that grad students don't have the wealth of resources available to foreign-born undergrads. "There is a need for Cornell to invest more in language support classes," says Deborah Campbell, director of the English for Academic Purposes program, which primarily serves grad students. Joseph Martin, MA '72, director of the writing workshop at the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, concurs, saying his program doesn't have enough tutors to help more than a handful of grad students; its walk-in service is available to all, yet can provide little more than a quick fix. "Grad students even ask to enroll in the first-year writing seminars," he says, "but we tell them no, that course is not suitable for them at a cognitive level."

Some graduate students seek help from other sources: they can go online, hire a tutor, or try to enroll in an undergraduate writing course. They can take English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in Cornell's Summer College or the Ithaca community. If they are TAs, they can sign up for the International Teaching Assistant Training Program, which is required of any TA whose first language is not English—and even then, they must be screened for a certain level of proficiency.

Just how difficult is English? Campbell responds by setting down an English grammar text, massive at 1,800 pages, and an American dictionary almost as thick. Lars Kollmann, a German-born student in the Program in Real Estate, has studied English for twenty years but still labors over its subtleties. "It takes me twice as long to do assignments as native speakers," he says. "I use a dictionary for every sentence, and for some words you can get eight to ten choices for definition and usage. It's torture. Mastering a language is a long and painful process."

Kim says that living with two American roommates has improved his speaking ability, but writing is a larger barrier. Luckily, he was able to take a seven-week communication course at the Johnson School, taught by lecturer Angela Noble-Grange, MBA '94. "Because the world is electronic, students write a great deal," Noble-Grange says. "Everything we do, we have to speak or write about it." The Program in Real Estate has started a similar course for its fifty students, but few departments offer such resources. J. Ellen Gainor, associate dean of the Graduate School, sees a wide-reaching need that goes beyond graduate students. Foreign-born postdocs, for example, may be new to English-speaking environments. "There is no real structure to assist them," she says. "We have a growing international undergraduate population and visiting faculty, and they might need help. It's an issue for the entire community."

— Scott Conroe, MPS '98

 

Sam Shaber
Music and memory: One of Sam Shaber's most popular tunes is an ode to Maribel Garcia '95.
Playing by Heart

Sam Shaber '94 remembers a friend in song

She plays it at every gig—the house concert in Savannah and the coffee shop in San Diego, the community college in New Jersey and the folk festival in Delaware. The tune begins with an acoustic guitar, gently picked, followed by soft, halting lyrics:

Lately I've not been too well
How are you Maribel?
So much has changed
So soon since you've flown
I find myself so alone

"People see what they want to see in the song," says its creator, Sam Shaber '94. "It speaks to everyone who's had a loss."

Sitting on a bench in New York's Central Park, Shaber doesn't look like the typical singer-songwriter. The native New Yorker is in the midst of a transition—from raw pop-folk artist to lead singer of the Happy Problem, a Los Angeles-based punk startup. And she's dressing the part: hair colored flaming red, nails inky black, hot pink top, faux combat boots she spotted in a store window in San Francisco. "It was like that scene from Purple Rain," she says with a laugh, "where Prince sees that guitar, and he has to have it."

Unlike the flamboyant rock star, Shaber has spent the past decade scratching for a living—no manager, no customized bus, no record deal. She books her own shows, drives hundreds of miles, sings, strums, sells her self-funded CDs, often sleeps in a friend's guest room or on a cousin's couch, and then she does it all over again. The venues change. The set lists, too. But she always plays "Rain and Sunshine."

I've got this story that I tell
About where we went, Maribel

When Shaber was a senior at Cornell, she met Maribel Garcia '95 in a creative writing class. She was immediately captivated by the slim, sharp-featured blonde whose parents had emigrated from Spain to Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. "Everything about Maribel seemed exotic yet totally down-to-earth. She was plain yet beautiful, extremely cool yet totally dorky," says Shaber. "I wanted to be like her very badly." They became fast friends, particularly when Shaber remained in Ithaca after graduation to pursue music. She joined a jam band as a backup singer, then formed a group called Sam Shaber and Belted Kingfisher, snagging a gig every few weeks. By the end of her second postgraduate year in Ithaca, she was testing her nascent songwriting skills as a solo act at places like Oliver's and the ABC Café.

When she moved back to New York, it was Garcia who set up Shaber's first big-city show, at a basement club in Chelsea. A year later, when Shaber undertook a tour to promote her first album— sixteen shows in twenty-four days—Garcia joined her. Neither had ever taken a classic road trip. Garcia was determined to see the Grand Canyon and excited to practice her driving (she had only a learner's permit). The 1997 Silver Lining Tour, as they came to call it, took them through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. They were supposed to conclude with a series of stops along the West Coast. But about halfway through the trip, they were speeding north through Arizona's Sedona Valley when the journey came to a sudden end. Garcia was driving, and Shaber was writing in her journal. She started a sentence but never finished it. The car veered off the road. Garcia overcorrected, they flipped over, and all went dark.

Shaber woke up in the hospital, having suffered a severe concussion. Garcia, who had been ejected from the car, never awoke. She was in a coma for four days before being pronounced dead. Devastated, Shaber nevertheless found herself back on the road within six weeks, completing what would have been the last half of the tour. "Maribel's death only made me want it more," she says. "If life is that precious, then you'd better fill it with as much as possible before it's gone." But now she had another song, one she had written in the weeks after the accident:

Now I believe in rain and sunshine and gravity
That's what took you from me

'Everything about Maribel seemed exotic yet totally down-to-earth. She was plain yet beautiful, extremely cool yet totally dorky'Shaber put "Rain and Sunshine" on her second album, then recorded it again (backed by a quartet from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) for Eighty Numbered Streets, an album produced by Grammy-nominated singer Shawn Mullins. On tour she played the song constantly, only rarely revealing the tale behind the lyrics. "Writing songs isn't therapy for me," says Shaber, who has been compared to the likes of Alannis Morissette and Joni Mitchell. "But it's definitely a way to process things, to examine them from all possible angles, and to share pieces of your life with people."

Then, last year, she found a way to share a piece of Maribel with the world. With the help of another of Garcia's friends, graphic artist Amy Melnikoff Rosenberg '95, Shaber set up the Maribel Garcia Community Spirit Award, which offers a modest check to a Cornellian who makes "remarkable contributions to the spirit of humanity." In April, the inaugural winner—Ding Kong '08, who works with low-income children in Ithaca as a tutor and nutritional counselor—was honored during Shaber's "Concert for Maribel" at Anabel Taylor Hall. The award fits, says Rosenberg, because "Maribel somehow made more hours in the day to fit the priority of doing public service, to make time for the world beyond Cornell."

So now after she plays "Rain and Sunshine," Shaber tells her audience about Maribel and the fund, pointing out the fliers on a table next to her merchandise. And Shaber's fans hand her a few extra dollars and listen, with a whole new understanding of the song.

And now if roses cast their spell
I sense you there, Maribel . . .

— Brad Herzog '90

Nose for News

ABC's Kate Snow '91 on trailing Hillary, covering the White House, and wrestling with her 'intransigent' hair

Kate SnowCornell Alumni Magazine: Does covering a presidential campaign for ABC News have anything in common with reporting for WVBR?

Kate Snow: Absolutely. The job skills are the same: the ability to go out and talk to people, gather information, listen well, and put it all together. Those are essential tools for a journalist, and they don't change whether it's Ithaca Common Council or Senator Clinton running for president.

CAM: When you anchor the weekend "Good Morning America," how early to do you have to get up?

KS: Three a.m. I usually go to bed at nine, if I can.

CAM: TV news gets a lot of grief for being sensational. Are you still idealistic about the medium?

KS: Yeah, I am. On "Good Morning America" on the weekends, we try very hard to break that model. I'm not saying we don't do Britney stories—we have done them, and we will again. But last weekend we did a story about the little girl who was in the Hillary Clinton "three a.m. phone call" ad, who turns out to be all grown up, and she's an Obama supporter. And we did a piece the weekend before, where my co-anchor compared the health-care plans of Obama and Clinton, in-depth. This weekend, my co-anchor's going to be in Iraq, and we're doing entire shows about the state of the war.

CAM: The Bush Administration has a reputation for being unwelcoming to the press. What was it like to cover the White House?

KS: I wouldn't call it hostile, I would call it controlled—very controlled. They were very careful with information. And from their point of view, that's exactly how it should be. From a reporter's point of view, is it frustrating? Sure. It was hard to get people to leak information, which is what a reporter depends on. And the Bush Administration is famously, on all levels, tight-lipped. But I don't really blame them. From what I understand, the Clinton White House was the opposite—they leaked like a sieve.

CAM: Is it a drag to always have to look good for the camera?

KS: I joke about it with the print reporters. I was on the road with Anne Kornblut from the Washington Post, and one day she wore jeans. I said, "God I wish I could show up in jeans!" I can't, because it might be caught on national television.

CAM: Any tips for coiffing yourself on the campaign trail?

KS: Velcro rollers. I'm not kidding. That's the secret to my hair. And I travel with lots of travel-size vials of products because my hair's really intransigent. A lot of times, I'll show up at the first call of the day with no make-up on just to get fifteen minutes extra sleep. I know that they always pad the time a bit, so while everybody's waiting around and having coffee, I duck into the bathroom and put on my make-up.

CAM: What is life like covering Hillary?

KS: It's been really fun, really crazy. The woman, if nothing else, has incredible stamina. I just came off the road after eleven weeks with two days off. I've been coming home on the weekends to anchor "Good Morning America," going straight back out on Sundays, and coming home on Friday nights.

CAM: Do your kids ever go out on the road with you?

KS: They're two and five, so they don't go on the road, but sometimes they'll meet me. My son has been to Crawford, Texas, where Bush's ranch is, and to Manchester, New Hampshire, during the primaries. It's crazy. But any time with them is good time.

CAM: What's Hillary Clinton like?

KS: She's actually a lovely person. All politics aside, she's interesting and thoughtful. I think most people who meet her are surprised at how friendly she is. There's no air of pretension, she's relaxed, she's got a sense of humor, she's engaging. Her campaign is constantly trying to sell that about her, and I don't think it's made up.

CAM: Some bloggers complain that you're too soft on her.

KS: I used to get criticism that I was too friendly to the Bush Administration, so I've taken it from both sides. My job is to present the news in context, in a way that's not judgmental, that allows viewers to make up their own minds.

CAM: How long until the Democratic nomination is decided?

KS: I thought we were going to be done with Ohio and Texas—that if Senator Clinton lost Texas and just barely won Ohio, she'd have a hard time resisting calls from fellow Democrats to step aside. But that didn't happen, so now we're in a whole new world. It could go through Puerto Rico in June, or all the way to the convention in August. I wish I knew, because then I could plan my life.

— Beth Saulnier

Then & Now

A picture perfect ending to a Cornellian tale

Scott Silverstein
Scott Silverstein '08
Scott Silverstein

By the time he was seven, Scott Silverstein '08 knew the words to the Alma Mater; fifteen years later, he plays the song twice a week on the Cornell Chimes. When Silverstein graduates this month with a BS in civil and environmental engineering, he'll earn his family's twelfth Cornell degree, following in the footsteps of his parents (David Silverstein '68, JD '73, and Leslie Roth Silverstein '73) and two grandparents (Sidney Roth '39 and Selma Halpert Roth '36), as well as uncles and cousins. "For a long time, I didn't know it was possible to go anywhere else," says Silverstein, a member of the varsity heavyweight crew and a devoted hockey fan. "Everyone I ever knew went to Cornell."

Although Silverstein considered other schools before applying early decision, there was an air of inevitability about his college choice—as CAM noted in its Reunion '93 coverage, when it ran a photo of him (inset) holding handwritten lyrics to the Alma Mater over the caption, "Is there any doubt where this boy is headed?" He'd started attending reunions in 1988, at age two; the '93 photo was snapped while his parents were registering in the lobby of Donlon Hall. "The photographer thought he was so cute," Leslie Silverstein says. "He had the reunion button on, and of course when you're that young, the button looks giant."

As head chimesmaster, Silverstein does several concerts a week, playing special tunes for his parents whenever they visit. (Among their favorites: Vivaldi's "Four Seasons.") As a member of the Class of '08, he'll graduate forty years after his father and thirty-five years after his mother, putting all three on the same reunion cycle.

— Bekah Grant '08

 

Econ 101

Can a Cornell MBA lead a Macedonian revolution?

Gligor Tashkovich
Gligor Tashkovich '87

Gligor Tashkovich has spent the past twenty months trying to convince international firms to set up shop in the Republic of Macedonia. But he first has to overcome what he calls "the education problem." "You'll say, 'Macedonia,' and they'll say, 'Mesopotamia?'" laughs Tashkovich '87, MBA '91, the country's first-ever minister for foreign investment. "Or they'll go, 'Montenegro?' Or, 'Isn't that a section of Greece?' "

Actually, as Tashkovich politely points out, Macedonia is on southeastern Europe's Balkan peninsula, neighboring Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia. One could forgive the ignorance of potential investors. The Republic has been around only since 1991, when it gained independence from the former Yugoslavia. Since then, Macedonia has struggled for an economic footing. But Tashkovich is modeling his efforts on another micro-nation that has become an economic powerhouse. "The vision that I have for Macedonia," he says, "is to become the Singapore of Europe."

ImageTashkovich may seem an odd choice for the sixth-highest position in Macedonia's government. Born in America, he grew up in Pound Ridge, New York, and his mother, Stefanie Lipsit Tashkovich '59, MEd '64, is from the Bronx. Although his father, Vuko Gligor Tashkovich '62, BArch '65, was born in Macedonia (the couple met at Cornell), Gligor never learned the language. On each of three childhood trips to Macedonia, he got sick from contaminated water. "I couldn't relate to anything," Tashkovich remembers. "We went because my father is from there, but it meant nothing to me."

Home to Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, Macedonia has an ethnically diverse population of two million, 25 percent of which is Albanian. The country boasts some of the world's best-preserved Byzantine frescos and medieval monasteries and one of its oldest lakes. Thanks to a lush landscape and hot, dry summers, Macedonia had been the breadbasket of Yugoslavia, supporting some 22 million people.

'The vision that I have for Macedonia is to become the Singapore of Europe,' says the nation's first minister for foreign investment.Nonetheless, it was Yugoslavia's poorest region, landlocked and small. And the nation's breakup cost Macedonia its main market and blocked its trade routes, says government professor Valerie Bunce. "The economy was further depressed by the United Nations' embargo against Serbia during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the costs of the NATO bombing in 1999, and the association with a part of the world that was widely viewed as too unstable for investment." Now 36 percent of Macedonians are unemployed, and a high trade deficit makes the economy vulnerable to external forces. Corruption is still a long-standing problem. And it doesn't help Tashkovich's cause that there's no word for "public relations" in Macedonian.

But, Tashkovich says, there's reason for optimism. All over the world, he's delivered his pitch: Macedonia offers investors a balanced budget, a rising gross domestic product, a stable currency, and low inflation. Most Macedonians under the age of forty—about 70 percent of the population—know some English. The government has created incentives as well: low taxes, tax-free economic zones, low wages on par with China, and free trade agreements with every European country, a market of 650 million people. And the regional situation has improved significantly, Bunce says, thanks to the democratic turnaround in Serbia and the integration of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union—which Macedonia hopes to join by 2012.

Tashkovich's service to Macedonia is a family tradition. His grandfather, for whom he is named, was a senator and leader of the Democratic Agrarian Party from 1937 to 1946. His father, a successful architect and builder, headed a diaspora organization called the World Macedonian Congress and was asked by Macedonia's first president to return to the country to promote capitalism and democracy when it declared independence. "Then," Tashkovich says, "Mom, Dad, and I went back in March of 1992 to look around and see what things were like." To the newly minted MBA, it looked like opportunity. The president appointed him Economic Development Representative, and over the next several years he represented Macedonia at regional peace talks and international trade conferences. Speaking mostly English—he has only a "bare-bones" understanding of Macedonian—he negotiated the country's first contract with AT&T, was the exclusive importer of Time magazine's international edition, and opened Macedonia's first Western Union.

Named minister by a new administration in August 2006, he's been working twelve-hour days, seven days a week, ever since. By last summer he had met with 600 companies. Of those, thirty had signed up, including a Slovenian pharmaceutical firm that plans to open a regional distribution center and a Croatian manufacturer committed to building a factory for LCD TVs and computer components. Calling his country's business-friendly attributes "unbeatable," he compares his job to a class he took at Cornell. "It was called Government 313: Urban Affairs Lab, where we got to run a city," he says. "Except now we're doing it for a whole country."

— Susan Kelley

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Last Updated ( Monday, 12 May 2008 )
 
Every age has its advantages and disadvantages.
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