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Students Receive Research Awards from NASA

Three undergraduates and one graduate student received NASA Connecticut Space Grant Awards from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC). The CTSGC is a federally mandated grant, internship, and scholarship program that aims to inspire the pursuit of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Astronomy and math major Nicole Zalewski ’20 received a $5,000 undergraduate research fellowship to pursue her study on “Measurement of the Radar Properties of the Oldest Rocks on Venus to Constrain Mineralogy.” Her advisor is Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, co-coordinator of planetary science, and director of graduate studies.

Wesleyan in the News


In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Variety: “Entertainment Education Report: The Best Film Schools in 2018”

Wesleyan is highlighted as one of the best schools to study film. An exceptional group of filmmakers, including Joss Whedon ’87 and Michael Bay ’86, have cited Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, as a major influence on their understanding of film.

2. Hartford Courant: “New Bike Share at Wesleyan Offers Speedy Transport for Students”

Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleindienst discusses Wesleyan’s new partnership with San Francisco–based start-up Spin to provide bicycles on campus for quick and low-cost rental by students and other community members.

3. WNPR: “Where We Live”

Katja Kolcio, associate professor and chair of dance, and Anna Fox ’19 discuss Wesleyan’s partnership with a university in Kiev, Ukraine, their recent visit to the country, and what they have learned from activists involved in the country’s revolution in 2014. Kolcio is also associate professor of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies and associate professor of environmental studies. (Kolcio and Fox come in around 26 minutes).

4. Poets & Quants for Undergrads: “The Case for ‘Test Optional’ College Admissions”

A new study, which analyzed data from Wesleyan and many other schools that don’t require the SAT or ACT in admission, finds that “test optional” institutions tend to enroll a higher proportion of low-income, first-generation students on average, and students from more diverse backgrounds. The study also found that high school GPA was a better predictor of success in college than standardized test scores for these students.

5. Gizmodo“What Shapes Are Things in Outer Space?”

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, assistant professor of integrative sciences, paints a picture of the planet formation process, and explains why planetary systems tend to be flat.

Recent Alumni News

  1. Tech Crunch: With Loans of Just $10, This Startup Has Built a Financial Services Powerhouse in Emerging Markets”

    Shivani Siroya ’04 is founder and chief executive officer of Tala, a Santa Monica–based financial services start-up. The Tech Crunch article offers examples of lives that have been changed in places such as India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Tanzania with help from Tala. Additionally, author Jonathan Shieber reports that Steve Case’s Revolution Growth fund recently provided $65 million in new financing for Tala: “’We see Tala as a company building the future of finance. They have quickly become one of the leading mobile-first lenders in emerging markets where well over 3 billion consumers do not have access to traditional banks,’ says Case.”

2. Washington Post: “The Trailblazing Writing Life of Alexander Chee [’89]”

“Alexander Chee is best known as a novelist, and after the operatic plot of his Queen of the Night, readers may be surprised at the quiet intimacy of his first essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” writes reviewer Crystal Hana Kim. “By offering the reader such advice in the form of personal revelation, we are asked to journey with him, to learn how to write alongside him. In the ensuing essays, Chee reflects on his professional trajectory. In some, like ‘The Writing Life,’ which chronicles Chee’s class with Annie Dillard at Wesleyan University, he discusses craft explicitly. In others, like ‘The Rosary,’ he only alludes to his writerly life….”

 

3. Washington Post: Op-Ed: “I Thought Grit Would Bring Me Success. It Almost Killed Me,” by Nataly Kogan [’98]

Nataly Kogan, who arrived with her parents in the United States as Russian refugees when she was only 13, is the founder of Happier, a learning and technology platform. In this op-ed she writes about the pressure she put herself under to succeed in America, but through work with a life coach, she learned important lessons about self-compassion. She is the author of  Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Sounds True; May 1, 2018).

4.  Channel NewsAsia: Commentary: ”A Liberal Arts Education in Singapore and the Usefulness of ‘Useless’ Knowledge

Terry Nardin, professor of political science and director of Common Curriculum at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, offers an explanation of a liberal arts education that challenges the cultural expectation that “the purpose of tertiary education is to equip students with technical or other specialised skills that qualify them for a specific job and stable employment.” As an example of a liberal arts graduate who has met with success he offers:  “Luke Wood [’91] graduated in 1991 from Wesleyan University, an American liberal arts college, where he had majored in American studies. Wood was able to turn his passion for music into an internship at Geffen Records, after which he signed artists for DreamWorks and Interscope.” Nardin traces Wood’s path further, concluding that “Wood’s success is another good reminder that ‘useless knowledge’ can not only turn out to be useful after all, but also that usefulness is in the eye of the beholder.”

5. Variety:Bloom/Spiegel Partnership Unveils Participants of Second Edition (EXCLUSIVE)

Ostin Fam ’17 (Dung Quoc Pham ’17) was selected as one of eight filmmakers for “the second edition of the Bloom/Spiegel Partnership, an alliance between New York’s IFP Marcie Bloom Fellowship in Film and Jerusalem’s prestigious Sam Spiegel Film School.” The article includes this background on the Wesleyan alumnus: “Born in Vietnam and based in New York, Fam graduated from Wesleyan University and received the Steven J. Ross Prize for his senior film thesis. Fam is currently finishing the screenplay of his first feature, Small Wars. Taking place in a rural village in Vietnam, the story is about a family of three.”

Honors, MA Students Share Research at Science Theses Celebration

Honors and MA students from the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division participated in the Celebration of Science Theses, April 27 in Exley Science Center. Students shared their work with the broader Wesleyan community.

Honors and MA students from the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division participated in the Celebration of Science Theses, April 27 in Exley Science Center. Students shared their work with the broader Wesleyan community.

Darci Collins presented her research titled "Lord Kelvin's Error? An Investigation into the Isotropic Helocoid." Collins' advisor is Greg Voth.

Darci Collins ’18 presented her research titled “Lord Kelvin’s Error? An Investigation into the Isotropic Helocoid.” Collins’s advisor is Greg Voth, chair and professor of physics.

Faculty, Students Mingle at Wesleyan Women in Science Gathering

On Feb. 15, the Wesleyan Women in Science group hosted Student-Faculty Tea for WesWIS students and female science faculty. The event took place inside the Van Vleck Observatory's library.

On Feb. 15, the Wesleyan Women in Science (WesWIS) group hosted a student-faculty tea for WesWIS students and female science faculty. The event took place inside the Van Vleck Observatory’s library. Women in Science is a student group composed of undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff and faculty dedicated to issues affecting women in science. The group is open to all majors and genders.

Hughes Named 2018 Cottrell Scholar

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, assistant professor of integrative sciences, has been named a Cottrell Scholar for 2018 by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA).

Hughes is one of two dozen early career academic scientists to receive this honor, which comes with a $100,000 award for research and teaching.

“The Cottrell Scholar (CS) program champions the very best early career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy by providing these significant discretionary awards,” said RCSA President and CEO Daniel Linzer.

Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program Wraps Up Summer Program

Seventy-nine high school students attended the summer session of Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program. (Photo by Cybele Moon)

This summer, high school students from Middletown and surrounding areas were immersed in college life, often collaborating with faculty and staff across campus, during the summer session of Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program. From an overnight stay on campus, to a field trip to Philadelphia to visit colleges, opportunities to get a feel for college life were plenty.

Wesleyan University’s Pre-College Access Program is application-based and is developed to enhance the academic skills and preparation of talented high school students who have an interest in pursuing higher education.

“Our programs tailor to low-income and first-generation college students,” explained Miguel Peralta, director of Pre-College Access Programs and Upward Bound Math-Science at Wesleyan. “Two-thirds of our participants are both.”

Serving 79 students from Middletown, Meriden and New Britain and running from June 22 to Aug. 1, the Pre-College Access Program is made possible by the federally funded TRIO program and designed to strengthen the math and science skills of high school students from Meriden and New Britain. Middletown students are served by Wesleyan funds and private foundations.

Hughes, Leiman-Sifry Research Published in Astrophysical Journal, Nature

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, is the co-author of “Debris Disks in the Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association Resolved by Alma,” published in The Astrophysical Journal, Vo. 828, No. 1. Jesse Lieman-Sifry ’15 also is a co-author of the article.

In addition, the international weekly journal of science Nature mentioned the article in a Sept. 8 publication.

The co-authors explored the idea of carbon-monoxide potentially being in large-star disks. As explained in her abstract, “Stars twice the size of the sun can feature carbon-monoxide-rich gas disks around them, contrary to the expectation that ultraviolet radiation would have stripped away the gas.”

Hughes used the “Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in northern Chile to probe the regions around 24 young star systems, only about 5 million to 10 million years old. They chose stars surrounded by a disk of dust debris—resembling a scaled-up version of the Solar System’s Kuiper belt—this leftover material could form new planets, including gas giants.

In conclusion, the researchers noted that three of the larger stars in the sample had strong carbon monoxide emissions.

Astronomy Department Celebrates Observatory Centennial with Conference, Reception

On June 16, the Astronomy Department hosted the Van Vleck Observatory Centennial Symposium: A Celebration of Astronomy at Wesleyan University. Wesleyan’s observatory has been celebrating its centennial during the 2015-16 academic year, with a series of events and an exhibition, “Under Connecticut Skies.”

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford (ASGH), and held in conjunction with StarConn.

The exhibition was spearheaded by Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy, and Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history. At the meeting, they discussed the exhibition, which was developed by a team of faculty, students and staff using the observatory’s extensive collection of scientific instruments, teaching materials, photographs, drawings and correspondence to illustrate the changes in astronomical research and teaching over the past century. Located in Van Vleck’s library, the exhibition is semi-permanent and open to the public for viewing when the building is open.

In addition, University Archivist Leith Johnson created an exhibition in Olin Library titled, “A Stellar Education: Astronomy at Wesleyan, 1831-1916.” It is available for viewing through October.

The day-long event included guests speakers discussing topics in the full range of professional and amateur astronomy. Talks were given by many members of Wesleyan’s astronomy department and other departments, past and present.

The event concluded with a gala reception and re-dedication ceremony of the Van Vleck Observatory. Guests viewed the restored 20-inch refractor telescope.

Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, was honored for his contributions to the Astronomy Department. Herbst and Seth Redfield also discussed “Stellar Astronomy and the Perkin Telescope" during the conference.

Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, was honored for his contributions to the Astronomy Department. Herbst and Seth Redfield also discussed “Stellar Astronomy and the Perkin Telescope” during the conference.

Wesleyan Hosts Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

More than 200 women undergraduates from the North East who are majoring in physics attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)

Attendees from the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics gathered for a group photo. Wesleyan is the first liberal arts college to host a CUWiP.  Pictured in red at far left, assistant professor Chris Othon, and pictured at far right, assistant professor Meredith Hughes co-organized the conference at Wesleyan.

More than 200 women undergraduates from the Northeast attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) Jan. 15-17 at Wesleyan. Wesleyan was one of nine institutions from around the country to host a conference. (View an extensive recap of the conference starting on Page 8 of this APS newsletter.)

The APS CUWiP provides female physics majors with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics with whom they can share experiences, advice and ideas.

The program included panel discussions about graduate school and careers in physics, presentations and discussions about women in physics, laboratory tours, student research talks, a student poster session, banquet and career fair.

Flaherty to Speak on New Planetary Systems during AAAS Annual Meeting

Kevin Flaherty, a postdoctoral researcher working with Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, will speak on “Dusty Debris as a Window into New Planetary Systems” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 13. Flaherty is one of three symposium speakers who will discuss the theme “Planet Formation Seen with Radio Eyes.”

Scientists are now probing how, where, and when planets form and are analyzing the links between planetary system architecture and the properties of the parent circumstellar disk. Though the relationship of planetary to stellar masses remains obscure, it is clear that most stars host planets. This symposium describes the state-of-the-art radio-wavelength observing campaigns astronomers are using to probe planet formation and samples new scientific results that radio telescopes are yielding.

After planetary systems form, small bodies analogous to Kuiper Belt Objects collide and produce dusty debris that can be seen around distant stars with radio interferometers. The structure of such debris disks is intimately connected with the dynamics of young planetary systems. In his presentation, Flaherty will describe how recent spectacular Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array observations of debris disks are revealing the properties of emerging planetary systems and the processes by which they form and evolve.

Hughes Recipient of 2015 Bok Prize for Astronomy

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

For her outstanding contributions to Milky Way research by observational methods, Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, received the 2015 Bok Prize in Astronomy from Harvard University.

The prize, named in honor of Astronomer Bart Bok (1906–1983), is awarded to a recent holder of a PhD degree in the physical sciences from Harvard or Radcliffe who is under 35 years of age. Hughes received her PhD from Harvard in 2010, and a MA in astronomy from Harvard in 2007.

Hughes is an expert on planet formation, circumstellar disk structure and dynamics, gas and dust disk evolution and radio astronomy. She studies planet formation by observing the gas and dust in the disks around young stars, mostly using (sub)millimeter interferometers.

At Wesleyan, she teaches the courses Observational Astronomy, Radio Astronomy, Introductory Astronomy and Pedagogy Seminar.

She’s also the 2015 faculty advisor for the Wesleyan Women in Science organization (WesWIS) and serves on the American Astronomical Society Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy and acts as the liaison between CSWA and the Working Group on LGBTIQ Equality.

Petit Family Foundation Supports Women in Physics Conference

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). The three-day conference, scheduled for January 15-17, 2016, will showcase career opportunities available to physicists through plenary talks, panel discussions and a career fair. Attendees will have the opportunity to network and interact with more than 200 fellow undergraduate women physicists as well as a variety of industrial and academic leaders.

Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, are co-organizing the conference with help from Nisha Grewal ’17 (physics/economics) and Julia Zachary ’17 (physics/astronomy). The group is planning a career fair representing regional technology companies and graduate physics programs.

The 2016 CUWiP will be held at nine different sites including Wesleyan, Black Hills State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University – Jefferson Laboratory, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Syracuse University, the University of California – San Diego, and the University of Texas – San Antonio. For more information visit the CUWiP website.