Monthly Archives: December 2012

“The Lives They Lived”: Alex Okrent ’05

The New York Times Magazine features the late Alex Okrent ’05 in “The Lives They Lived,” published December 29. He was working for the 2012 Obama campaign when he collapsed at his desk on July 13 and was pronounced dead at a Chicago hospital from what was later determined to be a cardiac arrhythmia. “If there was a single moment that unified our campaign and knit us together, it was this horrific event,”  said David Alexrod, the campaign’s chief strategist.

Read the full article here.

Can Libor Be Fixed?

In an interview with Law360, Professor of Economics Richard Grossman discussed recent reforms suggested for the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) following a rigging scandal by banks. Grossman argued that the benchmark interest rate should be scrapped because “self-reported data is always susceptible to corruption, and as long as the market relies heavily on its own participants to set interest rates, it risks losing the confidence of lenders and borrowers.”

“This is what financial regulators are there to do — protect the integrity of the market,” he said. “This is a moment for them to be aggressive, and I worry they’re stopping short because to go further would be too hard.”

Read the full article here.

Guns and the American Psyche

Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus, appeared on WNPR’s “The Colin McEnroe Show” to discuss the myth–and reality–of the centrality of guns in American culture over history. Listen here.

Hoggard’s Jazz Christmas Album Among Year’s Best

NPR recommends a new jazz Christmas album by vibraphonist and composer Jay Hoggard, adjunct professor of music. The reviewer writes that Hoggard, “…draws upon the Christian tradition in which he was raised — his father was a clergyman — for a universal message surrounding all the good things of the season. Joining Hoggard are fellow respected veterans James Weidman on organ and Bruce Cox on drums. That combination of instruments creates spaciousness on a program of traditional songs and original meditations.”

QAC 201 Course Uses Poster Session as Final Exam

More than 110 students enrolled in the hands-on course Applied Data Analysis (QAC 201) presented research at the Quantitative Analysis Center’s Student Poster Session on Dec. 12 in Beckham Hall. The poster session served as the course’s final exam. More than 35 guests who use and teach applied statistics, attended the Quantitative Analysis Center’s Student Poster Session to speak with students and judge the posters. Several of the guest judges were alumni.

The interdisciplinary course QAC 201, taught by Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, provides experience in data management and applied statistics. Students develop skills in several aspects of the research process including generating testable hypotheses based on extant data; conducting a literature review and evaluating the content of scientific literature; preparing data for analysis; selecting and conducting descriptive analyses; and presenting research findings.

The QAC’s Student Poster Session provided an opportunity for students to share their work with each other, and interact with outside experts. Photos of the event are below:

 

Rehan Mehta '14 speaks to guest judge Larry Vitulano, a clinical psychologist and associate clinical professor of psychology at the Yale School of Medicine.

Rehan Mehta ’14 speaks to guest judge Larry Vitulano, a clinical psychologist and associate clinical professor of psychology at the Yale School of Medicine. Mehta’s research is titled, “The Association between Adolescent Aggression And Religiosity.”

Phabinly "Phabs" Gabriel '13 presented his research on "The Relationship between Televised Media and Violent Behaviors."

Phabinly “Phabs” Gabriel ’13 presented his research on “The Relationship between Televised Media and Violent Behaviors.”

Lauren Seo '14 speaks to a guest judge about her research on "The Association between Major Depression and Smoking in Pregnant Women."

Lauren Seo ’14 speaks to a guest judge about her research on “The Association between Major Depression and Smoking in Pregnant Women.”

Mfundi Makama '14 shares his poster on "Attendance of Counseling Services among Different Occupations."

Mfundi Makama ’14 shares his poster on “Attendance of Counseling Services among Different Occupations.”

Leslie Egno '14 presented her QAC research on "The Association between Substance Use and Suicide Attempts among Adolescents."

Leslie Egno ’14 presented her QAC research on “The Association between Substance Use and Suicide Attempts among Adolescents.”

Shirley Deng '14 shared her current research on "Association between Self-image, Goals and Expectations and Academic Achievement."

Shirley Deng ’14 shared her current research on “Association between Self-image, Goals and Expectations and Academic Achievement.”

For more information on the Quantitative Analysis Center, visit the website, or contact Emmanuel Kaparakis, director of centers for advanced computing in the QAC.

Students, COE Fellow Participate in Climate Change Convention in Qatar

Chloe Holden '15, Samantha Santaniello '13, Sophie Duncan '13 and Michael Dorsey, fellow of the College of the Environment, visiting professor of environmental studies, participated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar.

Chloe Holden ’15, Samantha Santaniello ’13, Sophie Duncan ’13 and Michael Dorsey, fellow of the College of the Environment, visiting professor of environmental studies, participated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar.

Three Wesleyan students joined hundreds of climate change activists from around the world to strategize with fellow youth, discuss climate change policy, engage with delegates and participate in a climate change march during the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar.

The convention began Nov. 26. Sophie Duncan ’13, Samantha Santaniello ’13 and Chloe Holden ’15, accompanied by Michael Dorsey, fellow of the College of the Environment, visiting professor of environmental studies, obtained entry badges and jumped right into a panel discussion on equitable climate policies with representatives from the Third World Network.

“We were initially struck by the variety of people at the conference center, from young people much like us to VIP diplomats from different countries and generations, all of whom seem anxious to get started and work hard for the interests they represent,” Holden said.

Although youth participants were not able to participate directly in negotiations, the Wesleyan students quickly teamed up with about 150 youth delegates from around the world. Many youth represented civil society organizations including Climate Justice Now, Earth in Brackets, the Arab Youth Society, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, Climate Action Network, the Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition and the global youth constituency YOUNGO.

“After attending a YOUNGO meeting and conversations with a few students, I realized that this conference is an opportunity for we, the youth, to exchange ideas and strategies with activists, delegates,

President Roth Presents Wesleyan 2020 Update

In May 2010, the Board of Trustees adopted “Wesleyan 2020″ as a fundamental tool for strategic decision making at Wesleyan. Designed to be flexible, this framework for planning will assist the university in making decisions about the allocation of resources in the next five to 10 years. It reflects the input of faculty, trustees, staff, alumni and students and begins with an introduction that gives a sense of some of the recent achievements that have shaped the Wesleyan of today.

Each fall, Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth sends an update on the university’s progress in meeting the goals set out in the Wesleyan 2020 framework. The updated report is online here. The update is organized under the rubric of Wesleyan’s three overarching goals: Energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; Enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; Work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values.

In an all-campus e-mail on Dec. 6, President Roth wrote:

“Over the last 12 months we undertook a major self-study as part of the regional Accreditation process. I don’t explicitly discuss that process in the update, but I can say we were very pleased with the first response of the Accreditation Committee that came to campus. We will be releasing the official Accreditation materials when they are available in 2013.

Over the last year we have been involved in extensive (and sometimes intense) discussions with faculty, students, alumni and staff about our present operations and our plans for the future. This is as it should be. Receiving the most attention so far is the change in how we will budget for financial aid (leaving us about 90 percent need blind), and in this update I review the rationale for the change. Affordability, accessibility, and financial aid are key challenges for Wesleyan, and in the fundraising campaign we are launching, financial aid endowment (complemented by gifts to current scholarships through the Wesleyan Fund) is our highest priority.”

President Roth invites the campus community to comment on the 2020 plan on his blog.

15 Students with 93 Percent GPAs Elected to Phi Beta Kappa

Fifteen seniors joined Phi Beta Kappa honor society on Dec. 5. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Fifteen seniors joined Phi Beta Kappa honor society on Dec. 5. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Fifteen students from the Class of 2013 were elected to early-decision membership in Phi Beta Kappa during an initiation ceremony Dec. 5. Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, dating back to 1776.

Sociology major Evan Okun accepts his Phi Beta Kappa papers from Class Dean Louise Brown, PBK chapter secretary and marshall. Okun teaches a class at the juvenile detention in Middletown, which examines literary technique and societal inequality through rap songs.

Sociology major Evan Okun ’13 accepts his Phi Beta Kappa membership papers from Dean Louise Brown, PBK chapter secretary and marshall. Okun teaches a class at the juvenile detention in Middletown, which examines literary technique and societal inequality through rap songs.

The organization’s Greek initials signify the motto, “Love of learning is the guide of life.”To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by his or her major department. He or she also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations, and have achieved a grade-point average of 93 percent. Members of the Fall 2012 class all have GPAs of 94.48 percent or above.

Sally Bachner, president of the Connecticut Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and associate professor of English, said for students elected in the fall, it is an especially exacting selection process and the election is an extremely prestigious one, because admittance is based on a student’s performance at Wesleyan only through their junior year.

“The students gathered here today represent a broad range of learning and commitment to excellence in a major, in some cases two or more majors, or a major that combines several disciplines,” she said, during the initiation ceremony. “These new members’ accomplishments during their years at Wesleyan should be a source of pride to themselves and to their families.”

Bachner was joined by the chapter’s vice president Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology; chapter treasurer Steven Horst, chair and professor of philosophy; chapter secretary and marshall Louise Brown, dean for academic advancement/dean for the Class of 2013; and chapter historian Lorna Scott, assistant to the vice president for student affairs.

The elected students and their majors are:

Benjamin Abravanel, English and psychology; Evan Baum, chemistry; Julianne Edwards, biology, molecular biology and biochemistry, Science In Society; Scott Greene, chemistry;

Battle for the Future: Smolkin-Rothrock on the Spiritual Life of Soviet Atheism

(Story contributed by Jim H. Smith)

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Its official name was the Century 21 Exhibition, but it was better known as the Seattle World Fair, and it seemed to be an unambiguous statement about America’s aspirations for its future. Boasting a futuristic monorail and an iconic Space Needle whose elevators were piloted by female attendants wearing excessive blue eye shadow and costumes out of a Hollywood sci-fi feature, it came to hold totemic significance for a nation whose philosophical differences with the Soviet Union were being sorted out against the majestic backdrop of outer space.

One of the first visitors to the 1962 fair was Soviet cosmonaut German Titov, the second Soviet man in space after Yuri Gagarin, the youngest spaceman (a record that stands to this day), and the first to orbit the Earth repeatedly. In his homeland Titov was nothing less than a demi-God.

During a news conference in Seattle, Titov was asked whether his adventures in the cosmos had altered his worldview. “Up to our first orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin no God helped build our rocket,” said the cosmonaut, who perceived the subtext of the question. “The rocket was made by our people. I don’t believe in God. I believe in man, his strength, his possibilities and his reason.”

It was, says Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, a statement that bespoke the essence of the Soviet Union’s long, strange struggle to supplant traditional religions throughout the empire with “scientific atheism.” If it provoked an outcry across America, well, that was Titov’s intent.

During the 1960s, as Smolkin-Rothrock notes, Titov and his fellow cosmonauts “were the public face of Communism on the world stage, and their triumphs and charisma put forward a confident image of a Communist state that could solve all problems and answer all questions, material and spiritual.”

On Oct. 18, Smolkin-Rothrock delivered this year’s prestigious Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Her address, which began with the Titov story, offered an analysis of Communism’s little-known efforts to manage the collective spiritual life of the Soviet people.

5 Questions With … Rick Elphick on Missionaries and the Racial Politics of South Africa

This semester, Rick Elphick is teaching a sophomore history tutorial on "The Emergence of Modern Europe" and "The History of Southern Africa."

This semester, Rick Elphick is teaching a sophomore history tutorial on “The Emergence of Modern Europe” and “The History of Southern Africa.”

In this edition of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Richard “Rick” Elphick, professor of history and co-chair of the College of Social Studies. Elphick is the author of The Equality of Believers: Protestant Missionaries and the Racial Politics of South Africa, published by the University of Virginia Press in September 2012.

Q: What do you think is the main message, or the main achievement, of your new book?

A: For decades, historians of South Africa have struggled to trace how a white minority, starting in the 1650s, established a system of stark inequality among the races in the region. My book attempts to reconfigure the history of South Africa by interweaving the pressures toward inequality, which are now fairly well understood, with an account of the pressures toward racial equality. These pressures, I argue, were rooted chiefly in the proclamation of the equality of all persons before God, a message brought to South Africa by Christian missionaries. My story begins with the first missionary in 1737, and ends in 1960.

Q: Do you give the missionaries credit for the eventual overthrow of white rule and apartheid in the 1990s?

A: Not really. I do give credit to the mission schools, where black leaders, almost all of them devout Christians, acquired a belief in racial equality that inspired their resistance to oppression. I also emphasize how Christian doctrine ate away at the conscience of some white South Africans. But, as for the missionaries themselves, many appear in my book as deeply conflicted between their theoretical ideals and their fear of confronting the white power structure. And many showed a lack of confidence in blacks that bordered on racism.

Q: You also say that missionaries helped create the apartheid ideology?

A: Many writers have tried to find a link between religion and the doctrine of radical racial separation known as apartheid. In my view, however, they have looked in the wrong places. I trace the origins of the doctrine to missionary leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Fellow Pellegrino ’12 Encourages Wesleyan Community to Become Civically Engaged

Dana Pellegrino '12 is the Civic Engagement Fellow for the Center for Community Partnerships and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Dana Pellegrino ’12 is the Civic Engagement Fellow for the Center for Community Partnerships and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Q: Dana, you’re Wesleyan’s first Civic Engagement Fellow. How do you describe your role?

A: As the Civic Engagement Fellow, I focus on promoting civic engagement throughout the entire university, with students, faculty and staff. While the focus may be broad, I mainly work with two specific centers: the Center for Community Partnerships, under Director Cathy Lechowicz, and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, under Director Paul Gagnon. At CCP, I’m primarily involved in informing students about the many opportunities for immediate impact here in Middletown, and in assisting student coordinators of the Office of Community Service’s programs. We’re also developing ideas for tapping into other networks and social media platforms to increase awareness and communication among CCP, students, and the Middletown community. With the Patricelli Center, I help students with more global-minded engagement, including opportunities for grants, workshops in entrepreneurial skills, and networking with alumni. Both offices offer an incredible amount of resources.

Q: What are some recent ways you’re helping Wesleyan students become “civically engaged?”

A: Just before Thanksgiving, my director, Cathy, and I rounded up students from all different groups on campus — fraternities, athletic teams, program houses — to assist in the Middletown Community Thanksgiving Project. Students came by throughout the day to help assemble Thanksgiving Dinner baskets for over 500 families in our community. Not only were Wesleyan students presented with the opportunity to civically engage in combatting food insecurity,

Schwarcz to Promote Solidarity, Goodwill with Volunteers for Israel

Professor Vera Schwarcz will spend her holiday vacation working with Volunteers for Israel.

Professor Vera Schwarcz will spend her holiday vacation working with Volunteers for Israel.

After visiting Israel several times to lecture about Chinese and Jewish history, Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of history, decided to do something different during her next trip abroad.

“I wanted to let go of the ‘specialness’ of my training and skills and do something more basic, something more grounded and more urgently needed at the moment,” she says.

On Dec. 16, Schwarcz will begin a two week service trip with “Volunteers for Israel,” a 30-year-old program that promotes solidarity and goodwill among Israelis, American Jews, and other friends of Israel. Since 1982, more than 30,000 American civilians have joined Volunteers for Israel and signed on as short-term volunteers doing noncombatant civilian work with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on bases throughout Israel.

Schwarcz and her fellow volunteers may pack medical supplies, refurbish electronic equipment, repair machinery, and perform logistic assignments wherever they are needed.

Watching Israeli civilians cower in bomb shelters during ‘Pillar of Defense’ convinced Schwarcz that she must help with her own two hands.

“This a moment in time, when I can help Israel without a Ph.D. in Chinese history,” she says. ” What is needed are good will and the desire to rebuild the one and only democracy in the Middle East.”