Christian Camerota

Thornton Leaves Lasting Legacy of Student of Color Recruitment

Since joining Wesleyan in 1985, Thornton has been instrumental in establishing and leading the University’s historic commitment to a diverse and academically elite student body, a defining feature of the Wesleyan experience. As he wraps up his final fall semester, Thornton took time to sit down in his office across Foss Hill and reflect on his accomplishments, Wesleyan’s future, and some of his fondest memories.

Since joining Wesleyan in 1985, Cliff Thornton, associate dean of admission at Wesleyan has been instrumental in establishing and leading the University’s historic commitment to a diverse and academically elite student body, a defining feature of the Wesleyan experience. Having served Wesleyan—now for more than 30 years, Thornton recently announced that he will retire at the end of the Spring 2019 semester. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

To listen to Cliff Thornton speak with prospective students and parents is to feel included, even if you’re eavesdropping.

Thornton is associate dean of admission at Wesleyan, covering a wide geographic and socioeconomic range: the South Central U.S. from Kentucky to Louisiana, Manhattan, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean. Having served these communities—and Wesleyan—now for more than 30 years, it makes sense that he would demonstrate an ease and fluency in his relations with so many different people from such different backgrounds. He’s had a lot of practice.

But something unique about Thornton, which by many accounts has been true from the beginning of his time at Wesleyan, is how his holistic approach impacts students. To hear him tell it:

“Alumni will often start out by saying to me, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I graduated from Wesleyan in 1995….’ And I always remember them. That’s why I’ve continued to do this work. I’ve had the privilege to witness their growth and success,” Thornton said.

“Working in admission is good in two ways. First, it’s great to be in an educational environment and to believe in the mission. Second, if practiced correctly, it’s a lot like teaching. It might surprise some to hear this, but at the end of the day I don’t consider it my job to make sure a student comes to Wesleyan. My job is to help them make an informed decision. Particularly with underrepresented populations, this is a big challenge. As Dr. Cornel West has said of the African American community: What we often suffer from is a poverty of information. That’s a driving force for me—making sure students have the right information to make such a crucial decision.”

This approach bears itself out in Thornton’s work on a daily basis. In a recent information session with a large group of prospective students and parents, he was clear that the session should be a conversation. Hearing and helping the group talk through their questions and concerns was as important as presenting to them. Fifteen minutes in, students and parents alike were openly talking about their college search experiences (good and bad), and were responding to and assisting one another. Thornton and senior interviewer Shana Laski ’19 served more as facilitators than lecturers. By the session’s end, the prospective group left informed and enthused—well-educated on what Wesleyan had to offer, and clearer about what they wanted and had to offer in turn.

Thornton’s unique understanding and approach at least partially derives from his own educational background. Prior to joining Wesleyan in 1985, he was an adjunct professor and actively considering a PhD. While dating someone who was already enrolled in a doctorate program, he was exposed to the “torturous path” of attaining that terminal degree, and was bumped from his adjunct role by another professor with a PhD.

“I lost my taste for wanting to be a professor,” he said.

Kottos Awarded $2.8M DARPA Grant for High-Level Photonic Research

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, and Wesleyan University will lead a complex, multi-institution initiative to research and develop the next generation of national instrumentation technology thanks to a four-year, $2,794,606 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Awarded this August, the grant is the culmination of at least eight years of photonics research by Kottos and his fellow collaborators, and will have significant implications for the future of a variety of technologies employed by the federal government and the private sector. An agency of the US Department of Defense, DARPA funds research and development projects that push the boundaries of technology and science. The focus of Kottos’s project is to “develop models and photonic devices that utilize dynamical (hidden) symmetries in order to achieve extreme light-matter interactions” and has three main targets:

  • Target 1: Develop the next generation of navigation instruments by designing photonic architectures with an extreme response to small perturbations. The goal is to use them to hone gyroscopes and accelerometers, which measure and guide the rotation and maneuvers of vehicles like race cars and jet airplanes.
  • Target 2: Utilize the temporal dimension (or time) as an altogether different degree of freedom in order to manipulate the flow of light. Applications vary from efficient night vision cameras, to management of thermal radiation in turbine aircraft engines.
  • Target 3: Investigate how to protect sensitive sensors from high-powered sources—this could include a pilot’s eyes from a laser source, an antenna from a directed electromagnetic burst, or a radar receiver from its own outbound signal.

6 Wesleyan Alumni Named to Top Nonprofit Leaders List

Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87; David Jones ’70; Phoebe Boyer ’89; Sharon Greenberger ’88, P’19; David Rivel ’83; and Alan Mucatel ’84 were recently honored for their contributions to social services and nonprofit organizations in New York with their inclusion in “The 2018 Nonprofit Power 50,” representing a strong showing by Wesleyan alumni in the 50-person list. The list was produced by City & State New York, a self-described nonpartisan media organization that covers New York’s local and state politics and policy.

“…The nonprofit and philanthropic sectors tend to go unnoticed and are all too often unheralded,” the publication wrote. “But behind them is a roster of figures who are ensuring the delivery of services, exploring innovative solutions and influencing public policy. In this special feature, we recognize 50 top nonprofit leaders who are key players in the world of New York politics and government.”

The six alumni biographies are excerpted below: (More information on their achievements is described on the City & State New York’s website.)

  • Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87
    • “For nearly two decades, the former first deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services has expanded the organization’s services, which now reach more than 10,000 New Yorkers annually.”

Wesleyan Launches New Home Page

On Thursday, Sept. 20, Wesleyan University launched a new home page, part of a broader core messaging effort to update and strengthen University-wide communications.

The home page design process was driven by rigorous analysis of usage statistics and by examining best practices for websites. The home page’s state-of-the-art functionality is intended to differentiate Wesleyan in an increasingly crowded and competitive higher education landscape, and to highlight the University’s distinctive qualities.

Dierker, Rose Win $2.8M NSF Award for Innovative Approach to Teaching Statistics

Lisa Dierker

Wesleyan professors Lisa Dierker and Jennifer Rose were recently awarded a $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to extend and disseminate their research on passion-driven statistics. The grant begins in the fall of 2018 and extends through 2023.

Recognizing the rapidly increasing importance of data-oriented skills in the modern workforce, passion-driven statistics was developed as a novel approach to make statistics and quantitative methods courses more accessible and engaging, particularly for traditionally marginalized students. It moves away from canned exercises, toward more applied, real-world, project-based learning experiences.

”An empowering curriculum needs to rise to many challenges,” Dierker said. “Those include promoting inquiry across a wide range of disciplines, building new skills as challenges arise, facilitating the use of modern computing tools, providing support for students regardless of educational background, and framing statistics as an exciting set of tools for understanding a complex world. We are confident in and excited about this project’s ability to do all of that.”