Monthly Archives: April 2012

Stemler on Evaluating Teachers’ Performance

In an op-ed published in the Hartford Courant, Assistant Professor of Psychology Steve Stemler argues that student test scores are a poor basis for evaluating teachers. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed education reform package would tie decisions about teacher tenure and pay to teacher evaluations, which are partially based on student test scores under a new evaluation system.

Craighead on Slowing U.S. Economy

Assistant Professor of Economics Bill Craighead weighs in for McClatchy Newspapers on a new report showing U.S. economic growth slowed to a disappointing 2.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter of 2012. He points out that while consumer spending grew at a healthy 2.9 percent, despite relatively flat income growth, business investment remained weak.

“I think what it says is consumers are coming back a bit, but firms are still holding back. They don’t feel confident enough in the recovery to start adding to capacity” and expanding, he says. Consumers appear to be making up for cautious spending in recent years, more confident that the worst is over, he suggests in the article.

“Given corporate profits, you might have hoped for more investment growth,” Craighead says. The economy continues to “hit the snooze button. … It’s acceptable growth in the normal economy, but given how many people are unemployed it is disappointing.”

Wesleyan Media Project Partners with MTV

CNN reports that The Wesleyan Media Project will join The Knight Foundation, Center for Responsive Politics, RealClearPolitics.com, PolitiFact, foursquare and others to partner with MTV on their new educational game “Fantasy Election 12.” The game is part of the network’s Power of 12 campaign, a desktop and mobile game that “will give young people a new way to hold presidential and congressional candidates accountable, and reward youth for getting involved in Election ‘12.”

According to MTV, the game is “similar to Fantasy Football and enables users to draft a team of candidates pursuing the presidency or congress, earning and losing points based on how their players behave in the real world.  Users will also earn bonus points for real world actions like registering to vote, voting, and testing their political knowledge.  Overall, success in the game will be based on two things: how candidates behave and what players do.”

The Wesleyan Media Project will provide MTV and users with real-time data on presidential and federal election races’ financing.

Book by Writer-in-Residence Reed Nominated for Shirley Jackson Award

Kit Reed

Resident Writer Kit Reed has been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. Her book, What Wolves Know, published in spring 2011 by PS Publishing, was nominated in the category of Single Author Collection.

What Wolves Know is a dystopian thriller; a collection of stories, including tales of mothers who are monstrous in their maternalness, families on the brink of implosion, and children mutated by parental pressure. The title story is about a boy raised by wolves who struggles to adapt to the modern world. Reed has published 22 novels and more than 100 short stories. More information about her work is available on her web site.

The Shirley Jackson Awards recognize outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic. The awards were established in honor of author Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), who wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as the famous short story, “The Lottery.”

The 2011 Shirley Jackson Awards will be presented on July 15 at Readercon 23, Conference on Imaginative Literature, in Burlington, Mass.

Jenkins Brings Dante, Theater to Prison Inmates

A news report for WNPR features the work of Ronald Jenkins, professor of theater, who has worked with prison inmates around the world, bringing classic works of drama and literature, including Dante’s Inferno. The report focuses on a new play by Jenkins that is being performed by former inmates from the York Women’s Correctional Facility in Connecticut. The play has been performed in Hartford and will be performed in New York City.

Class of 2016 Admits Experience Wesleyan at WesFest (Photos and Video below)

During WesFest, held April 12–14 on campus, Class of 2016 admits attend classes, meet with professors, talk with Wesleyan students, and participate in campus events.

Midday on Friday, April 13, Class of 2016 admitted students and their families spread out across a sunny Foss Hill at WesFest, enjoying a barbecue lunch buffet as upbeat music plays in the background. Some, having arrived only hours earlier, are still soaking in the sights and sounds of Wesleyan. Others already have a good feel for the school, having stayed overnight in the dorms with a student host, and sat in on a class or two.

Kai Leshne and his mother have come from San Francisco, Calif., drawn by the excellent academics, and strong soccer and music programs. Kai visited a Portuguese class earlier in the day, and is excited after discussing study abroad opportunities in Brazil with the professor.

“I really, really like it,” he says, summing up his impressions of the school thus far. “There’s just such a friendly atmosphere. Everyone’s really open and extroverted.”

Shravya Raju, visiting with her parents from San Jose, Calif., says she was attracted to Wesleyan because of its strong science program and small size. Compared with the large schools in the University of California system, she feels Wesleyan would give her greater opportunity to interact with professors and engage in hands-on work.

“It’s really pretty,” she says of the campus.

Two Professors Receive Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships

Magda Teter

Magda Teter, Chair of Medieval Studies, Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, professor of history, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and Elizabeth Willis, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, professor of English, have been awarded 2012 fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

According to the Guggenheim Foundation, the prestigious academic honor is presented to scholars “who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” This year, the 87th annual competition recognized 180 scholars, artists and scientists from across the U.S. and Canada. They were selected from a pool of almost 3,000 applicants, range in age from 27 to 84, and represent 62 disciplines and 74 different academic institutions. Through their fellowship projects, they will travel to all parts of the globe.

Teter also was recently awarded a Harry Frank Guggenheim fellowship. Both fellowships will allow her to take a full year sabbatical and support her travel and research expenses to the Vatican and Poland as she works on a new book, The Pope’s Dilemma: Blood Libel and the Boundaries of Papal Power.

The Pope’s Dilemma takes the familiar story of blood libel against Jews to tell a much broader story of religion and politics in Europe, demonstrating that the persistence of the ‘blood libel’ illuminates the reach, and also the limits, of papal authority in coping with local powers – a topic of significant interest even today, in light of the sex abuse scandals,” Teter says.

According to her biography on the Foundation web site, Teter specializes in early modern religious and cultural history, with an emphasis on Jewish-Christian relations in Eastern Europe, the politics of religion, and the transmission of culture among Jews and Christians across Europe in the early modern period. She is the author of Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Sinners on Trial (Harvard University Press, 2011), and a co-editor of and contributor to Social and Cultural Boundaries in Pre-modern Poland (Littman, 2010). She has also published numerous articles in English, Polish and Hebrew. Teter serves on the editorial boards of Polin, the Sixteenth Century Journal, and the AJS Review, and is co-founder and editor of the Early Modern Workshop, an open source site with historical texts and videos of scholars discussing them.

Elizabeth Willis

Willis, who specializes in poetry, is the author of Address (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), which won the PEN New England Winship Award for Poetry. Her other books include Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan University Press, 2006), Turneresque (Burning Deck, 2003), and The Human Abstract (Penguin, 1995), which won the National Poetry Series. Her biography on the Foundation web site notes: “Her most recent projects are investigative in spirit, shifting increasingly toward hybrid genres and explicitly questioning the boundaries of literary representation.” Willis has been awarded fellowships in poetry from the California Arts Council and the Howard Foundation. She has held residencies at Brown University, University of Denver, Naropa University, the MacDowell Colony, and the Centre International de Poésie, Marseille, and was a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Mills College.

With her Guggenheim fellowship, Willis will travel to Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, New York and California to conduct research for a new project. She explains, “I’ll be working on a new project that involves American religious, cultural and political history. It’s a book-length poem, not a history, but along the way it is thinking about theater, film and improvised family structures. I’m interested in what constitutes a sovereign body within America’s evolving concept of itself as a nation. And for me, poetry always brings up interesting questions about representation and voice.”

Willis adds, “I’m thrilled. The fellowship is a once-in-a-lifetime honor, and the timing couldn’t be better for me. The work I’m doing now involves a good deal of research and travel, so I’m immensely grateful that I’ll have the chance to focus on it more completely.”

The Riddle of Black Republicans: More Than Meets the Eye

Leah Wright

“When one surfaces on the national stage, most people tend to view the event as a sort of political phenomenon,” Leah Wright says. “They look at it with nearly the same disbelief and surprise as they would do with a unicorn sighting.”

The phenomenon Wright is referring to? Why black Republicans, of course.

“When we see a Herman Cain, Colin Powell, Condolezza Rice or Allen West appear on the national scene, the news media and many people tend to view these individuals as extreme outliers. In reality they are much more common than we are led to believe,” says Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African-American studies.

The presence of black Republicans is also much more long-standing than most reporters or commentators often lead people to believe. In fact, for several decades after the Civil War, blacks were almost exclusively Republican. After all, that was the “Party of Lincoln” and emancipation while southern Democrats were the party of oppression, Jim Crow and the KKK.

However, allegiances began to change significantly in the 1930s with the Great Depression and the rise of the New Deal. The move to the Democratic Party solidified with the civil rights movement and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and advancing his great society programs. Still, in 1966, Edward Brooke from Massachusetts, a Republican, became the first popularly-elected black U.S. Senator.

Brooke’s rise through the Republican Party was not an anomaly. In fact, Wright argues, the ascension of Brooke and other black Republicans is in part a design drawn up by moderate and independent civil rights-era leaders, including Nobel Laureate Ralph Bunche.

“Bunche’s strategy, at times, was to advance civil rights and issues confronting black communities through both parties,” Wright says. “He was a mentor to Brooke and to others. There was, and continues to be, a segment of the black community to whom the Republican Party presents a reasonable political choice.”

Wright is quick to add that the choice is not purely mercenary, that the individual’s values must line up with at least most of the party’s values.

“Most politicians are not ideologues; they do not subscribe to rigid dogma,” she says. “As a result, both parties offer a certain flexibility. What is forgotten is that many of the values embraced by Republicans and conservatives were also embraced by the civil rights movement, and continue to be embraced by many in the black community.”

These include beliefs in personal accountability, respectability, preference for small government and the free market, embracing of “family values,” and an acceptance of a brand of social justice that focuses more on judicial equality than on redistribution of wealth. These are all areas openly embraced by some conservatives and Republicans, as well.

For black people who strongly believe in these values, the Republican Party feels like more of a home than the Democratic Party.

“This falls exactly in line with the thinking of those in the Civil Rights movement who openly advocated for black people to become involved in both parties,” Wright says. “They argued that being involved with both parties means no party can take you for granted. That creates leverage for minority groups. It also affords different paths to expand party flexibility and access to genuine political power.”

Wright says that there are also black conservatives in non-elected policy positions, think tanks and other areas where they often affect large party perspectives and work toward policy changes.

“Black Republicans are out there and well-established,” she says. “They shouldn’t continue to be seen as the equivalent of unicorns.”

Wright is currently completing her book manuscript, The Loneliness of the Black Conservative: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.

Tratner ’12 to Study Educational Alternatives as Thomas Watson Fellow

Cara Tratner ’12 plays guitar in Algorrobo, Chile, where she studied abroad. Tratner, a sociology major, will travel to Peru, Guatemala, Ghana, Uganda and India as a 2012-13 Thomas J. Watson Fellow.

Cara Tratner ’12 grew up in the dorms of Stanford University where her dad taught English. Immersed in academia from the start, she did not begin to question her educational privilege until her freshman year at Wesleyan.

“As I became aware of the unequal patterns of access to education in the U.S.,” Tratner comments, “I looked back at my own schooling in a different light, starting to think critically about the level of segregation even in my own ‘good’ high school, and the way in which my success as a student was to a certain extent dependent on the failure of so many others.”

After this realization, Tratner began exploring alternative models of education and working with educational organizations seeking to reach those excluded from the type of education she grew up with. She taught in diverse settings ranging from Philadelphia public middle schools to Argentinian high schools to Connecticut prisons.

Yet Tratner shares that her experience in these teaching positions only complicated her understanding, leaving her wondering how and when educational structures actually benefit the communities they serve. “In my teaching experience I struggled to determine whether alternative educational practices were truly built out of the needs of those communities, or whether they functioned more to integrate individuals into a standardized educational paradigm,” she says.

As a 2012-13 Thomas J. Watson Fellow, sociology major Tratner will explore the topic “Overcoming Exclusion: Community-Based Educational Alternatives” in a year-long “wanderjahr.” Tratner is one of only 40 Watson Fellows selected to follow her passion in a self-designed project in countries outside the U.S. The fellowship comes with a $25,000 stipend. “The Watson is a way for me to learn about the work of educators who aim to empower marginalized communities to construct their own education,” she says.

Tratner will begin her wanderjahr in Peru, where 70 percent of Peruvian children who live isolated in Andean mountain communities do not complete more than five years of school. She’ll also explore and compare the work of educators in Guatemala, Ghana, Uganda and India who are developing culturally-relevant education programs for communities that have been left out of the formal education system.

Tratner will examine how cultural context influences the pedagogical methods of the educational response in each region. She’ll explore the diverse ways educators around the world are seeking to solve the problem of educational exclusion.

“The wanderjahr is a perfect opportunity for me to see first-hand the incredible variety of innovative initiatives around the world aiming to create a culturally-relevant education,” she says. “If I can discover how educators are able to empower entire communities to construct their own model of education, I hope that I too will be able to locate myself within a global educational community and work to construct my own path as I step forward into the world of education.”

“Political Economy of Oil” Topic of Shasha Seminar

The Shasha Seminar includes sessions on Peak Oil and Beyond, the Oil Business: Profit and Social Responsibility; Oil and the Glory; War, Instability and the Search for Energy Security; and Environmental Sustainability and the Future of Petrocarbons.

The Wesleyan community is invited to the 10th annual Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns on April 19-20. This year, experts will explore the topic, “The Political Economy of Oil.”

“Energy policy is always in the news. But with gas prices above $4 a gallon, shale gas revolutionizing the gas industry, and intense debates over the construction of the Keystone pipeline, it has never been more topical,” says Peter Rutland, Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, Professor of Government, Professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies

Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will lead the keynote address on "Protecting Our Environment in Turbulent Times" at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns on April 19.

At 8 p.m. April 19, Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, will lead the keynote address on “Protecting Our Environment in Turbulent Times.” The event takes place in Memorial Chapel and is free of charge.

Commissioner Esty will talk about the need to continue moving forward with an energy and environmental agenda for the 21st century, despite a backlash that has developed on these issues.

While some question the need to move toward a cleaner and cheaper energy future and the value of environmental regulation, Connecticut is determined to serve as a national model on how an integrated approach to energy and the environment can best protect the public health and our natural resources—and also contribute to economic growth and job creation.

At 9 a.m. on April 20, Shasha Seminar panels will begin; topics include: “Peak Oil and Beyond, the Oil Business: Profit and Social Responsibility;” “War, Instability and the Search for Energy Security;” and “Environmental Sustainability and the Future of Petrocarbons.”

At 1 p.m. on April 20, Steve LeVine, author of The Oil and The Glory, will give the Shasha Luncheon Lecture at Beckham Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

This year’s Shasha seminar will include participation by Wesleyan faculty Mary Alice Haddad, associate professor of government, associate professor of environmental studies, associate professor of East Asian Studies; Chris Hogendorn, associate professor of economics; Anne Peters, assistant professor of government; and Phil Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. Matthew Roe ’05; David Work ’68, P’93; Paul McDermott ’76, P’12, Ladeene Freimuth ’89 and Dean Malouta P’12 are among the panelists. Professor Rutland is the event’s facilitator.

Register online here. View the full program here.

The Shasha Seminar, endowed by James J. Shasha ’50, P’82 is an educational forum for the Wesleyan community and friends that provides an opportunity to explore issues of global concern in a small seminar environment.

Hudes Receives 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Quiara Alegria Hudes, visiting writer in theater. (Photo by Joseph Moran)

A play written by Quiara Alegria Hudes, visiting writer in theater, has won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The play, Water by the Spoonful, is about the search for meaning by a returning Iraq War veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia. The soldier struggles to put aside the demons that haunt him while his mother, a recovering addict, battles her own demons. The drama premiered at the Hartford State Company in 2011.

Hudes, 34, wrote the book for the Broadway musical In the Heights, which was created by and stars Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, is directed by Tommy Kail ’99, and arranged and orchestrated by Bill Sherman ’02. In 2008, In the Heights received the Tony Award for Best Musical, a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist.

Hudes’ play Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007. It opened at New York’s Culture Project and transferred to a special run at El Museo del Barrio.

Hudes is the inaugural recipient of the Roe Green Award, given by the Cleveland Playhouse to a nationally-recognized playwright. Other honors include a United States Artists Fontanals Fellowship as well as a Resolution from the City of Philadelphia. She is a resident playwright at New Dramatists in New York.

At Wesleyan, Hudes teaches an advanced intensive course in playwriting called Advanced Playwright’s Workshop. Students focus on developing an artistic voice by completing playwriting exercises, listening to feedback, and reading and providing feedback to their peers in workshop sessions.

Read the April 16 Associated Press story online here.

Chemistry Major Sagi ’14 Receives Goldwater Scholarship for Academic Merit

Goldwater Scholar Andras Sagi studies how different compounds bind to quadruplex DNA. His research may lead to treatments for cancer.

A Wesleyan sophomore is the recipient of a prestigious award from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Andras Sagi ’14, a chemistry and molecular biology double major, is one of 282 college students from around the country who received a Goldwater Scholarship. Goldwater Scholars are selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,123 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The $15,000 scholarship will be applied to Sagi’s tuition, fees, books, and room and board over two years.

At Wesleyan, Sagi works with Philip Bolton, professor of chemistry, on localizing the binding of different ligands to quadruplex DNA, which may lay a foundation for cancer treatments.

“Quadruplexes are of considerable therapeutic interest because induction or stabilization of quadruplex formation in cells has been shown to cause cancer cell senescence and death,” Sagi explains. “Moreover, quadruplexes have a protein-like structural diversity, allowing for the development of drugs highly specific to particular quadruplex structures. Thus, pharmaceuticals capable of targeting certain quadruplexes may be of significant interest as treatments for cancer.”

Sagi is interested in determining where and how different compounds bind to quadruplex structures.

“If we can understand the locations of binding of various compounds to particular quadruplex structures, then we can help scientists design drugs capable of achieving similarly strong binding,” he says.

After graduating from Wesleyan, Sagi intends to pursue a doctorate in chemistry “at the best institution in my field  of biophysical chemistry I can receive acceptance to,” he says. “From this point on, I will seek employment either in academia or with the government, with the intention of becoming an established scientist at a national laboratory or institute.”

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Since its first award in 1989, the Foundation has bestowed over 6,200 scholarships worth approximately $39 million.