Cynthia Rockwell

Boger ’73 Recalls “Weightless Flight” With Hawking for WNPR

Noted physicist Stephen Hawking (center), who died on March 14, enjoys zero gravity during a 2007 flight aboard a modified Boeing 727 aircraft owned by Zero Gravity Corporation. Joshua Boger ’73 (not pictured), founder of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, was on the flight with Hawking and recalled it for a tribute on WNPR. In this photo, Hawking, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) was being rotated by (right) Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Zero G Corp., and (left) Byron Lichtenberg, former shuttle payload specialist and now president of ZERO-G. Kneeling behind Hawking is Nicola O’Brien, a nurse practitioner who was Hawking’s aide. (Photo courtesy of Zero Gravity Corp., Wikimedia Commons)

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09

Connecticut Public Radio tapped Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09, chair emeritus of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees, for his recollections of a historic flight he had taken back in 2007 with noted physicist Stephen Hawking, who died March 14 at the age of 76. The flight had been sponsored by Zero Gravity Corporation and provided, for those on board, eight zero-G opportunities—or “eight brief windows of weightlessness,” as WNPR correspondent Patrick Skahill described them in his story, “Remembering The Flight Where Stephen Hawking Went Weightless.”

Boger had written in detail about the experience of this zero-G flight with Hawking in  “Weightless But Weighty” in Wesleyan magazine, 2007 issue 3:

“Zero-Gravity One!” Hawking, gently guided by Peter [Diamandis] and Byron [Lichtenberg] rises into the air, supine, on his back, still, curiously, completely flat. It is an electric moment, mocking the classic magician trick with the floating assistant, as he remains floating with no one touching him. . . . I glance over at Hawking’s heart monitor and see that his pulse has raised only a few beats from baseline. Mine is racing. He is in bliss. What is he thinking? What is he feeling?

We’d all give worlds to know. . . .

“Zero-G Eight!” . . . We sit in lotus position, cross-legged, and push a finger gently on the “floor,” floating effortlessly into the center of the cabin. Peaceful, unspinning, we learn at last the cosmic serenity of no gravity. This is the one weightless segment of all the zero-Gs that I will remember the most. No spins. No flights. No ceiling dances. Just gravity down. Gravity up. Nothing happening in between except novel cognition. A glance at Professor Hawking confirms he was there six zero-Gs ago.

Hendel ’85, It’s Not Always Depression at Wesleyan RJ Julia Author Event

Hilary Jacobs Hendel ’85, P’18, licensed psychoanalyst and certified Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) therapist and supervisor, spoke about her new book, It’s Not Always Depression (Random House and Penguin U.K., 2018), on March 1 at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore in Middletown. 

For the gathering of Wesleyan and Middletown community members, Hendel described her introduction to psychotherapeutic techniques at a lecture by Diana Fosha, the founder of AEDP; her work as a therapist, providing a safe environment in which her clients can experience core emotions; and the use of the Change Triangle, a guide to carry people from a place of disconnection back to their true self.

In an audience question-and-answer period, featured in the video below by Jon Hendel, Hilary Jacobs Hendel explained the usefulness of core emotions—including anger—and offered suggestions for nonthreatening ways that a reader could begin to talk about emotions with family and friends:


After the talk, Hendel signed copies of her book and answered individual questions.

Additionally, Hendel, right, enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with cousin Makaela Steinberg Kingsley ’98, director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. (Photos by Cynthia Rockwell)

Playwright Buck ’99: Quest for Citizenship as Game Show in American Dreams

American Dreams playwright Leila Buck* ’99, in the role of game show host Sherry Brown, keeps the tone light—although it is a play meant to spark discussions of consequence and conscience, resources and reality, ideals and ideology. It is an evening of theater that she hopes will reverberate long after the curtain comes down. Pictured (left to right): Imran Sheikh* as Usman Bhutt; Andrew Aaron Valdez as Alejandro Rodriguez; Ali Andre Ali as Adil Akram Mansour; Leila Buck* as Sherry Brown; Jens Rasmussen* as Chris White. (Photo by Steve Wagner and Cleveland Public Theatre) *Actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

A game show where three contestants compete for the grand prize—immediate citizenship to the U.S.A.—and the audience decides who wins. That’s the premise of American Dreams, the newest work by actor/playwright Leila Buck ’99, which just completed its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre on March 3rd.

In this participatory theater piece, each night the contestants—a Mexican-American medic and Dreamer, a Pakistani cartoonist, and a Palestinian chef—compete in five rounds: How America Works (a buzzer-style quiz with questions from the U.S. citizenship test); America’s Favorites (audience volunteers help contestants answer questions from national surveys about Americans’ “favorite things”); Aliens with Extraordinary Skills (contestants pit their talents against each other to see who can most contribute to American society); American Dreams (contestants share their dreams and plans for life in the United States); and The Hot Seat (audience members and hosts interrogate contestants before deciding who should be their newest neighbor).

The audience is invited to participate and to vote throughout the play in various ways, and whoever accrues the most points in all five rounds, wins. The winner (potentially different each night) then swears the Oath of Citizenship as the grand finale of the show—until an unexpected turn of events asks those on stage, and the audience, to question what happens to those who don’t win.

Buck began imagining this piece with her director and co-creator Tamilla Woodard during the summer of 2016, with the presidential election still ahead and questions of immigration and citizenship top-of-mind in the national consciousness. Meeting regularly with Woodard throughout that year, Buck says, “We wanted to create something that would invite audiences to engage with what it means to them to be and to become a citizen of this country.”

And in a moment that she calls typical of their process, they seemed to come to the same idea at the same time: “It’s a game show!”—and the real creative journey began.

The nascent idea was chosen for workshops at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center and Queens College. “They each gave us a budget, time and space to see what this might look like on its feet,” says Buck. Raymond Bobgan, the executive artistic director of Cleveland Public Theatre, came to one of their workshop presentations at LaGuardia, and immediately asked how to bring it to his venue—and American Dreams headed westward.

A Black Phoenix Rising Art Experience Premiered at Zilkha

A Black Phoenix Rising Art Experience was a creative collaboration of Wesleyan students, artist Ernesto Cuevas Jr., and Associate Professor of Science in Society, Sociology, and African American Studies Anthony Hatch (center right). It opened in the south gallery at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery on Feb. 22.


This exhibition was co-sponsored by the Center for African American Studies, the Center for the Humanities and the Center for the Arts’ Creative Campus Initiative, made possible with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The projects began in Hatch’s fall 2017 seminar, Black Phoenix Rising, during his fellowship semester at the Center for the Humanities. Working with the Center’s theme of Rethinking Necropolitics, the class explored—through a collaborative process—the methods that African Americans used in order to resist material and symbolic death in American life and culture.

Grounded in the black radical tradition, each of the works in this multimedia exhibit was collaboratively conceived and produced through the power of collective memory and the medium of storytelling.

In the Shadows of Tomorrow brochure that accompanied the exhibit, the artists explain, “Our goal for this work is to embody the Black Phoenix by envisioning life cycles that do not end with . . . death. Instead, we utilize vignettes . . . to tell a story of religion, healing, and spirituality as sites of communal resistance.”

The opening provided a reunion for the class, as well as an invitation to have conversations with friends and community members about the issues raised in the artwork and displays.

The exhibition was on display Feb. 22-25.

Hendel ’85: It’s Not Always Depression Offers Guidance on Emotional Health

Psychotherapist and author Hilary Jacobs Hendel ’85 will be speaking about her new book, It’s Not Always Depression, at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 1. (Photo by Chia Messina)

Hilary Jacobs Hendel ’85, P’18, a licensed psychoanalyst and certified Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) therapist and supervisor, is the author of It’s Not Always Depression (Random House and Penguin UK, 2018). She’ll be speaking at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore, at 7 p.m. on March 1, about a psychotherapeutic tool she calls the Change Triangle, a guide to carry people from a place of disconnection back to their true self. It’s a step-by-step process to work with emotions to minimize stress and move toward authentic living. Through moving, persuasive stories of working the Change Triangle with her own patients, Hendel teaches us how to apply these principles to our everyday lives.

In this Q&A, she discusses the book:

Q: Your book is titled “It’s Not Always Depression”—then what is it?

HJH: It’s the effect that adverse life experiences have on us.

Traumas, adversity or just feeling alone or different from others—poor, gay, transgender, from another country, disabled—can overwhelm us and evoke emotions that we can’t process. For instance, if we feel anger about our difficult experiences, but that emotion is too much to bear, we block it and turn it inward, so we feel it as depression or anxiety.

Scheibe Explores “Wisdom of Hamilton,” Psychological Depth, in Talk, New Books

Professor Emeritus Karl Scheibe joins his former students Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 and Owen Panettieri ’01, both playwrights and alumni of his Dramaturgical Approach to Psychology, at a production of Hamilton in New York City. Scheibe will speak on “The Wisdom of Hamilton,” at the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty on Feb. 14 at 4:30 p.m.

Professor of Psychology Emeritus Karl Scheibe recently published two new books, The Storied Nature of Human Life: The Life and Works of Theodore R. Sarbin (co-written with Frank J. Barret), which, he says, “sets the tone” for the second, Deep Drama: Exploring Life as Theater, a collection of recent essays. The latter book’s final piece, “The Wisdom of Hamilton,” recalls Scheibe’s first meeting with Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, his advisee in the autumn of 1998, and then explores the psychological depth and truth within Miranda’s award-winning Broadway musical. Miranda had been a member of Scheibe’s course, A Dramaturgical Approach to Psychology, in the spring of his junior year.

Scheibe also presented a talk on “The Wisdom of Hamilton” at the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty on Feb. 14.

In a Q&A, he further discusses the two books in context to each other and his work:

Q: You’ve said that your intellectual formation as a psychologist owes so much to Sarbin and the intellectual positions that he taught you to honor and value. How would you describe this intellectual stance that you owe to Sarbin, your mentor?

Grateful Dead Lyricist, Internet Rights Advocate John Perry Barlow ’69 Dies

This photo of John Perry Barlow ’69, seated on Foss Hill, ran in the 1994 summer issue of Wesleyan, for the article titled “Cognitive Dissident,” by Lisa Greim ’81, (Photo by Bill Burkhart)

Lyricist for the Grateful Dead and cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation John Perry Barlow ’69 died Feb. 7, 2018. He was 70.

A College of Letters major as an undergraduate, he collaborated with his friend from high school, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, on lyrics for songs that included “Cassidy,” “Mexicali Blues” and “Black-Throated Wind.”

In the 1980s Barlow was active in an early online community. Then in 1990, with John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor, founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). In the summer 1994 issue of Wesleyan, an article, “Cognitive Dissident,” written by Lisa Greim ’81, profiled his journey.

“To the surprise of many who know him, John Perry Barlow ’69 has become respectable,” wrote Greim.

“In the last ten years, Barlow, 46, has evolved from a Wyoming cattle rancher into one of the nation’s most outspoken computer experts and defenders of the right to electronic freedom….

‘I don’t know anyone else who is welcome at the White House, backstage at a Grateful Dead concert, at CIA headquarters and at a convention of teenage hackers,’ says Howard Reingold, author of The Virtual Community.

In a statement released by the EFF, Executive Director Cindy Cohn said of Barlow: “He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance.”

To read the article from the 1994 issue of Wesleyan, click this link: JPBarlow_WesMag1994.

 

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. Science Magazine: “India Plans Tricky and Unprecedented Landing Near Moon’s South Pole”

James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, comments on India’s plans to unleash a rover into previously unexplored territory near the moon’s south pole.

2. Newsweek: “Putin Keeps His Foot Firmly Pressed on Europe’s Windpipe”

Matthew Finkel ’18 writes that Moscow will likely be able to leverage its enormous energy exports to project soft power in Eastern Europe for years to come.

3. Electric Lit: “7 Books by Women that We Should Not Forget”

Amy Bloom, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, reviews seven exceptional books by women writers.

4. New Haven Register: “New Haven Composer Tyshawn Sorey Named to USA Fellowship”

Assistant Professor of Music Tyshawn Sorey MA ’11 wins a spot in the annual fellowship class of 45 artists and collaboratives across the country, receiving a $50,000 grant.

5. The Wesleyan Argus: “A Body in Fukushima Beautifully Re-Creates a Painful History”

New work from the A Body in Fukushima project by dancer/performer Eiko Otake, Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the College of the Environment, and photographer William Johnston is on view now through Feb. 15 at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan.

6. The Middletown Press: “Wesleyan University Earns Ford Foundation Grants, Which Will Increase Scope of Performance Center”

Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance has been awarded three grants from the Ford Foundation, which will allow it to advance diversity among participants and amplify its impact on the field of performance.

Recent Alumni News

1. Talking Biz News: “WSJ hires Parish as editor of Future of Everything

Mike Miller, senior editor for features and WSJ Weekend, announced that Stan Parish ’06  joined the WSJ staff as editor of the Future of Everything franchise. “His high journalistic standards, creativity, and mastery of magazine presentation have been instrumental in building FOE into a powerful new Wall Street Journal brand, now also encompassing a successful podcast and a live festival scheduled for May in New York,” Miller said in an announcement.

2. NPR.org: For One Family, Contract Work Means ‘Feast Or Famine’ As Income Varies

In this series on the rise of the contract worker, NPR business reporter Jim Zarroli turns to Diana Farrell ’87, president of JPMorgan Chase Institute, which has studied the U.S. workforce, to give context to the numbers.

3. Rolling Stone: MGMT’s Pop Adventure: How Duo Bounced Back 11 Years After Debut;

Andrew VanWyngarden ’05 and Ben Goldwasser ’05, the pair who are MGMT, talk about the making of Little Dark Age, their newest LP.

4. Broadway WorldSarah Burgess’ Kings Begins Previews at the Public Theater, 1/30

Previews began on Tuesday, Jan. 30, for the world premiere of Kings, written by Sarah Burgess and directed by Thomas Kail ’99. The play, scheduled to run through March 25, is billed as “a scathingly funny new play about the people at the heart of our democracy.” Previously, Burgess and Kail collaborated on her award-winning play, Dry Powder.

 

 

Sustainability Workshop Sparks Discussions, New Ideas

Sustainability Across the Curriculum, a Jan. 23 workshop organized by Wesleyan’s Sustainability Office and the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, provided faculty and instructors with the opportunity to discover ways to integrate sustainability into a variety of courses across academic disciplines.

The workshop featured a panel highlighting work by faculty who participated in the first year of Sustainability Across the Curriculum and had integrated sustainability into their own courses, followed by small-group sessions offering brainstorming opportunities. The focus of the SATC program is to amend an existing course to include sustainability, explained Jennifer Kleindienst, Wesleyan’s sustainability director, “The groups were divided into individuals who are early in this journey (not sure where to start) and those with an idea but looking to clarify details.” Kleindienst was there to facilitate discussions, along with Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Suzanne O’Connell, faculty coordinator for Sustainability Across the Curriculum, and assistant Ori Tannenbaum ’20.

O’Connell reports that involvement in this initiative has broadened her understanding of sustainability: “I now see it as an intricate network of ideas and actions that reaches almost every facet of life and society.”

Kleindienst heard a key phrase several times: “‘I never thought of doing it that way!’ It’s my job to get people to say that about what they do in the classroom and in daily life.”

She notes that the full program includes this workshop along with four seminars later in the semester, and then course integration over the next year. Following that, the faculty cohort reconvenes to discuss their experiences. Kleindienst invites the community to view the program website or contact her or Suzanne O’Connell with questions or for further information.

Photos of the workshop are below (photos by Cynthia Rockwell):

The event's faculty panel offered information on ways they've approached sustainability issues within their own curriculum. Panelists included Tony Hatch, associate professor of Science in Society, associate professor of African American studies, associate professor of sociology; Jan Naegele, the Alan M. Dachs Professor of Science, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; and Elise Springer, Chair and associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

The event’s faculty panel offered information on ways they’ve approached sustainability issues within their own curriculum. Panelists included past Sustainability Across the Curriculum participants Tony Hatch, associate professor of science in society, associate professor of African American studies, associate professor of sociology; Jan Naegele, the Alan M. Dachs Professor of Science, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; and Elise Springer, chair and associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Hatch noted he had pursued the subject of sustainability in terms of biomonitoring—that is, what elements are now in the human body that were not found there in previous eras. Naegele spoke about adding a module to the course on brain development that considered the effect of neurotoxins on that process. And Springer noted that sustainability is not a goal that can be fully achieved, but a genre of critique that evolves as we understand the ecological complexity of our practices.

At right, Jennifer Kleindienst, Wesleyan’s sustainability director, facilitates a group discussion. (Rachael Barlow, associate director for assessment, is at left.)

Ying Jia Tan, assistant professor of history, whose research focuses on the history of energy in modern China, participated in the brainstorming session.

Rachael Barlow, Wesleyan’s first associate director of assessment, who teaches the courses associated with the university’s new integrative learning project, also joined the seminar as a facilitator, offering examples of sustainability courses designed at other institutions that have proven successful.

Facilitator Suzanne O’Connell (right), professor of earth and environmental sciences and an early adapter to introducing sustainability concepts in her classes, shares teaching techniques that she has found effective in approaching the topic.

John Cooley, who has taught The Art of Academic Writing: The Environmental Movement in American History, raised questions on the seemingly inevitable temporal lag between when companies put a product on the market, scientists discover its harmful attributes and regulators then try to catch up, setting restrictions on the use of the product. (Paula Blue, instructional technologist at CPI, is at left.)

Constance Leidy (right), associate professor of mathematics, noted that she found it important to help students visualize extremely large numbers in order to contemplate the effects of exponential growth in population versus available resources. (From left to right, Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental science; Peggy Carey Best, director of service learning and visiting assistant professor of sociology; and William Johnston, professor of history, East Asian studies, science in society, and environmental studies.

Pearce ’08 Directs LoveYourBrain Yoga for Patients with Traumatic Brain Injuries

Kyla Pearce ’08 works with people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, teaching yoga as a technique to calm their minds and develop mind-body connections through the LoveYourBrain yoga program. “For me, yoga has been a pathway to connecting with myself in a more authentic and kinder way,” she says. “For much of my life, I was constantly pushing myself to achieve and measuring my self-worth based on these outcomes and how others perceived me. Yoga and meditation have helped me learn to recognize that my strength and value comes from within, and also how to observe instead of becoming entangled in my thoughts.”

Kyla Donnelly Pearce ’08, a government major at Wesleyan with a certificate in international relations, is now senior director of the LoveYourBrain yoga program, an outgrowth of the work her husband and the Pearce family are doing for those who suffer from traumatic brain injury. Their journey began after snowboarder Kevin Pearce, Kyla’s brother-in-law, was injured in a training accident in Utah on Dec. 31, 2009, as he prepared for the Olympic trials. The previous year he had won three medals at the 2008 Winter X Games XII in Aspen, Colo. He spent the first six months of 2010 in rehabilitation hospitals with brother Adam (Kyla’s spouse) at his side, before returning home to Vermont to continue healing.

Kyla Pearce’s interest in yoga has become an integral part of that healing.

“I vividly remember being in Dharamsala, India, with my 200-hour yoga teacher training program nearly completed—when I received an excited call from Adam. Kevin, he said, was finding a sense of peace, accomplishment and vitality in yoga and meditation that were unavailable elsewhere,” she recalls.

When she returned, she saw it for herself. “I noticed that he loved the feeling of accomplishment from engaging with what he deemed a fitting challenge (be it focusing his mind in meditation or holding a strength-building yoga posture), instead of assessing his progress based on some medical benchmark. When he practiced yoga, he no longer felt defined by his injury.

“The LoveYourBrain yoga program grew out of the need that my husband, Adam Pearce, saw for supporting his brother—and others affected by TBI—in the healing process.”

While it admittedly seems a circuitous path—from government major to therapeutic yoga instructor, Pearce notes it is actually more linked than it might appear. At Wesleyan, she was on a premed track with a clear goal:

“I wanted to be at the helm of delivering women’s health care services, specifically maternal health and family planning, in underserved communities abroad,” she says, noting her undergraduate interest in international relations. As for yoga during that period, she sporadically showed up in the basement of the Butterfield dorms, where her friend taught a yoga class. Pearce still keeps one track of her life back on her original health-care goals, completing an MPH at Dartmouth with a focus on women’s health. She is now midway through a doctorate there, investigating the quality of abortion care in the United States. On the other track, yoga has come into prominence.

Liseo, Hardigg ’90 Share WESU Connection Spanning 3 Decades

Francaccio (Franco Liseo) co-hosts a show of Italian music on WESU 88.1 FM with Lucilla Caminito, who Skypes in from Italy. (Photos of Francaccio by Cynthia Rockwell)

 

For two hours every Saturday—and any early morning or late night shift available—Middletown resident Franco Liseo fills the airwaves of WESU 88.1 FM, with Italian music. His specialty is the sounds from the ’60s and ’70s; “Love songs,” he says. “When I left Italy, I left with the music”—and he’s been doing this for 30 years.

The Saturday show is special; he broadcasts with a co-host, the daughter of a childhood friend, Lucilla Caminito, who Skypes in from Melilli. These shows feature contemporary music that Caminito chooses and sends to Liseo—whose DJ name is “Francaccio”—via the internet, YouTube or on a CD. “She’s prepared for this music; it’s more rap sounds now, the new generation,” he says.

Between songs, the two talk on air in rapid-fire Italian, smiling always and laughing frequently—never with a script—until it’s time for Francaccio to announce, “WESU Middletown,” and push the buttons for another song for their listeners throughout Connecticut and in his native Italy. Then he relaxes, continuing a conversation in Italian with Lucilla and in English with any visitor to the Broad Street location above Red and Black Café.

“Right here,” he says, opening his arms wide to encompass the whole studio. “I am home; the radio is me; I’m in paradise.”

Fels ’06 Wins Gates Grand Challenges Explorations with macro-eyes Health Care Initiative

Benjamin Fels ’06, co-founder of macro-eyes, is the recipient of a Grand Challenges award to explore a pilot project on vaccine delivery in Arusha, Tanzania, that will combine algorithms with information gleaned from on-the-ground observations.

“Pattern recognition was a constant in my explorations at Wesleyan—and what I focused on afterwards,” says Benjamin Fels ’06, explaining the unity behind a seeming diversity of interests.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Organization is interested, also, in what Fels finds intriguing. The company Fels co-founded, macro-eyes, is one of 20 that the foundation selected to be a Grand Challenges Explorations winner. The project that macro-eyes proposed seeks to use their own breed of statistical machine learning, trained on supply chain and immunization data at health facilities in Tanzania. The goal is to maximize the number of children who get vaccinated and minimize vaccine wastage.

Fels and his partners believe that by adding important data, information and observations from health-care workers at the site, they will be able to train and test algorithms, which will learn to identify predictive patterns to forecast demand and recommend the optimal delivery of vaccines to each site in the program.

At Wesleyan, Fels was an art history major who wrote an interdisciplinary University Major Honors thesis with advisor Khachig Tölölyan, professor of Letters and English. “He knew the kinds of topics he was interested in and the things he liked—but the exploration of the things he liked weren’t easily available within a departmental structure,” recalls Tölölyan. “Both of us wanted to think hard in the ways we wanted to think and not worry too much about whether a single discipline could comfortably accommodate that.”

Post-graduation, Fels spent a number of years trading derivatives, which he describes as, “I sat in front of 12 computers, dense with data, looking at patterns; working with technology and people from other cultures to develop algorithms to predict what came next. I really liked the rigor and clarity of it.” After a while, though, he sought to take his interest in pattern recognition in another direction, launching his company, macro-eyes, with a chief scientist who is also a principal research scientist at MIT, and a chief design officer.

“Machine learning—data analytics, or working with large amounts of data to discern those predictive patterns—is important in other domains outside of financial markets, so I went and founded a company,” he explains. Fels and his team are convinced that macro-eyes can solve the problem of ineffective health-care supply chains by harnessing effective machine learning paired with on-the-ground human information.

Fels initially became interested in this specific application of this theory through talking with Anna Talman Rapp ’05, a program officer at the Gates Foundation, which invests heavily in the development of vaccines, a crucial component of the global health climate. At the time, macro-eyes was working with a large U.S. health-care system, exploring questions around determining the value of different devices: which produced the best outcome for the lowest price for which type of patients.

The problem of predicting need captured his imagination: “On one hand, we could celebrate the effectiveness of vaccine delivery,” he says, “because on a global scale, more and more people are vaccinated against deadly diseases—global coverage is something like 86 percent. However, as more and more people are vaccinated, there’s a greater rate of coverage that will run in parallel to a greater wastage of vaccine. The approach so far has been to accept that as the cost of doing business.”

But the cost of vaccines has skyrocketed. Additionally, the vaccines themselves are fragile, with a limited shelf life and narrow range of temperatures in which they remain viable. Over-delivery practically guarantees some will spoil before they can be used—a waste of resources. In Fels’s mind, what is worse is undersupply.

“Let’s think about this one clinic in Arusha, Tanzania, that we’re going to work with: Let’s say, I decide to take my child to this clinic to be immunized. And I spend a good portion of my day traveling from where I live to get to this site. And when I get there, I’m told, ‘Sorry, we’ve run out of those vaccines.’ Rationally enough, I’m probably not going to come back. And even more dangerously, I’m probably going to tell my community, ‘Don’t bother to take your kids to get immunized, because they’re going to tell you that there aren’t any vaccines.’”

What he proposes is to use technology to much more accurately predict demand. Growing out of data from immunization events, he believes that patterns will emerge that can be translated to quantity and type of vaccine to be delivered. “The better you get, the less waste, more opportunity you have to provide the health care to the people who need it.”

Additionally, a key element Fels sees is: “We want to engage these caregivers at the frontline, get their information—and I use that word very carefully because information is many steps up from data; it’s filtered through somebody’s brain and understanding—about the context for care. We believe that these are people who are the world’s foremost experts on the delivery of care at that clinic in Arusha; nobody else knows more than they do; they have this deeper insight into what is happening around them.”

From there he notes a connection to health care in this country:  “You’ve probably read about how many doctors spend probably about half their day entering data. And you see this when you go to a doctor, typing away. That frustrates them, because they feel like, ‘That’s not what I trained to do.’ The data collection doesn’t seem important—and the reason is, it’s not flowing out and bouncing back with insights that would make their data collection worthwhile, an ‘Okay, this is why I’m making this investment.’ If we collect data, the initiative must be worthwhile for everybody.”

“I think of this health care project in terms of problems worth solving—and finding those has always interested me. I like the interdisciplinary aspect. And I would bet that everyone who goes through Wesleyan thinks in similar terms. That’s the point, right? To solve a problem that is worthwhile.”