Cynthia Rockwell

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.”

 

Mastrogiovanni ’79, Lala Pettibone and the Writing While Female Tour

Heidi Mastrogiovanni ’79 speaks on the Writing While Female 2017 Tour with her friend and fellow author, Teri Emory, whose book is also published by Amberjack. Mastrogiovanni notes that they frequently receive similar questions—on juggling career and home life—but observes that she does not believe John Irving, for instance, is regularly queried on this by his readership.

“The title character is, of course, a Wesleyan graduate,” says author Heidi Mastrogiovanni ’79, of her debut comic novel, Lala Pettibone’s Act Two (Amberjack Publishing, 2017). The novelist herself is also a comic actor, an animal welfare advocate and a screenwriter—and her second novel, sequel Lala Pettibone: Standing Room Only, will be available in August. To celebrate, she and a fellow Amberjack author—with similarly titled books, both with a reference to a second act—visited bookstores and venues across the country to talk about the writer’s life and the ways in which a book written by a female is perceived, welcomed and marketed.

In a question-and-answer interview, Mastrogiovanni speaks about her journey from Wesleyan to cross-country author’s events.

Q: You were a German and theater major at Wesleyan. How did this translate into a career in writing?

H.M.: Looking back, the connection is clear. It was at Wesleyan where I really grew to love spending time in the company of words. We read so much wonderful German literature, it was almost impossible to not be inspired. And being an actor in the Theater Department provided a solid foundation for developing an ear for dialogue—absolutely essential to a writer in any medium. Both majors shared an appreciation for the profound power of words.

After college, I moved to New York (back when you could still get a one-bedroom for less than $500 a month: AKA, the Stone Age) and formed a sketch comedy group with people I met at Manhattan Punch Line Theater. That’s when the urge to write really hit. We needed new material all the time, so I started writing sketches with another performer in the group. I discovered that saying a line and getting a laugh was addictive, and especially compelling when I’d also written the line.

Q: Where did the character of Lala Pettibone come from—how did she arrive in your head?

H.M.: Lala had such an unexpected arrival. My ideas for stories often come from an observed moment, a snippet of thought, a piece of overheard dialogue. Lala had two distinct phases in her journey to the forefront of my mind. It began with the first dog my husband and I adopted together, a wonderful, 12-year-old Beagle we named Eunice Petunia, because it just fit. Eunice had a lot of nicknames, among them “Baba Ganoush” and “Lala.” I have always believed—to borrow from T.S. Eliot’s words regarding the naming of cats—that a dog should have at least three different names.

Months after Eunice joined our family, the phrase “Lala Pettibone, Journalist to the Stars,” popped into my head out of nowhere. That was the first time Lala’s full name appeared to me—although she didn’t end up being a journalist to the stars.

Lala Pettibone is a lot like me in many respects. We’re both Wesleyan graduates, we were both widowed at a young age and found love again in our Act Two, and we both overuse ellipses in our writing. . . .

Library Access Services Assistant Jasmine Cardi: International Books and Local Clients

Jasmine Cardi, the weekend and evening supervisor for Interlibrary Loans—both for Olin library’s scholars in need of incoming books and outgoing volumes for academic institutions elsewhere—appreciates the institutional standard of service that she and her colleagues are able to provide.  (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

In this Q&A, we speak to Jasmine Cardi, who joined the Access Services staff at Wesleyan’s Olin Library on Jan. 7, 2013 (“Five years already!” she says). Now the weekend and evening supervisor, she provides support to the departments of Interlibrary Loan (ILL), Olin Reference, Reserves/E-Reserves, and Olin Circulation. With her arrival, the ILL office was able to lengthen their hours until 10 p.m. some evenings, offering availability for those geared to later study nights in the library.

Q: What do you like best about working for Interlibrary Loan?

A: I love seeing all the books we get from around the world—Italy and Russia, everywhere, depending on what people are studying. When we get one of these volumes from far away, we all think it’s really cool and just have to hold it and open it—before we quickly put it on the shelf for the borrower.

Q: How many people does ILL assist each year?

A: ILL serves hundreds of people, between borrowing from other libraries and lending to them. Last year there were almost 14,000 requests, combined.

Q: Tell us about Olin Library—as building, an institution, a workspace?

A: Olin is a unique building. My favorite place is on the second-floor balcony, overlooking the front foyer. I love the chandelier; I love on Saturday and Sunday morning when I come in to open the library, the way the sun shines through the windows and onto that chandelier. I actually took a picture one morning of that and made it into the screensaver on my phone.

When we think of a library, we think of books—but I love that libraries are evolving into places where the core value is patron service—whether it’s students, faculty, staff, co-workers, or the community.

Q: What’s your own educational background? Where did you begin your career?

A: I went to the University of St. Joseph back when it was an all-girls school known as St. Joseph College. My major was psychology and education with a minor in art history. Before coming to Wesleyan, I worked at Hartford Public Library for more than 10 years. Fun fact: My first job was at a library at age 16.

Q: Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies?

A: I love to read and I run—I’ve done four half-marathons, and a lot of 10Ks and 5Ks, more than I can count. I also did my first Spartan race in November. They’re a mix of running and obstacle courses, and the tradition goes back to ancient Greece. I like that we’re bringing that into the contemporary culture; I’m training to do more this year. I also like to go boating on the Connecticut River. We have a small 14-foot boat; my husband’s family has been boating every weekend their whole life, and now it’s our tradition. We’ve been together 17 years and we make it a point to get out on the water at least once on Saturday or Sunday.

Q: Are there any challenging/surprising moments—an outstanding moment that illustrates your work day you’d like to share?

A: Much of my day is spent helping someone find something in the stacks, or finding it elsewhere via interlibrary loan. Many times it’s an urgent request, with a deadline in the next 48 hours. It’s like saving the day when you can find what is needed within that timeframe.

And another story: One night as I was getting ready to leave, a family came in with an urgent request. Their two middle-school children had reports due the next day, but the family had been out of power for a few days after a storm, and they needed to print their papers. The kids were so grateful that the library was open and we could help them be ready for school the next day. Their appreciation was heartwarming.

Former Curator Feller Expert on Jewish Philosophy, Museum Studies

Yaniv Feller joined the faculty in 2017. He’s teaching religion courses this spring.

Yaniv Feller is the Jeremy Zwelling Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and assistant professor of religion. Feller specializes in Jewish philosophy, Jewish-Christian relations, post-Holocaust theology, material culture and museum studies. His current book project is titled “Leo Baeck and the Tradition of Dialogical Apologetics.” Prior to Wesleyan, Feller worked as an exhibition curator for the new permanent exhibition project at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

In this Q&A, Feller speaks about his time working at a renowned Jewish museum, the importance of incorporating the lives and histories of objects into his courses and woodworking. 

Q: You just joined the faculty at Wesleyan this year. What are you enjoying and how would you characterize your new academic home?

A: It is hard to believe that a semester has already passed—time flies by when you are having fun! Reflecting on the last couple of months, I realize that Wesleyan is indeed everything I hoped it to be: it is a passionate community of learners, and this is true of faculty and students alike. I obviously heard about how smart and engaged people at Wesleyan are, and it was a pleasure to discover that sometimes, positive reputation is more than justified.

Q: What courses are you teaching this spring?

A: I am teaching RELI 203, Jews and Judaism, and RELI 213, Refugees and Exiles: Religion in the Diaspora.

Q: Do you have a favorite course? (Or is that like asking a parent about a favorite child?) Is there one that seems particularly well received or apropos?

A: It IS a bit like asking for a favorite child. I like them all! I like to teach classes that examine Jewish history and philosophy as a springboard for larger theoretical questions, or ones that ask the theoretical questions through a series of case studies. Perhaps most relevant this semester is “Refugees and Exiles” in which we will examine contemporary discussions on refugees in light of philosophical, literary and historical perspectives. What do narratives about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, for example, have to teach us about today? More than you might suspect.

Contemporary Physics Class Takes Virtual Tour of World’s Largest Particle Accelerator

Foss Professor of Physics Tom Morgan (right) and his contemporary physics class enjoy a morning “virtual visit” to the CERN laboratory in Geneva, via Skype, with images of the Hadron Collider projected on a screen in Exley along with real-time conversations with physicists working there.

On Dec. 11, Foss Professor of Physics Tom Morgan invited his class, Introduction to Contemporary Physics, to join him in Exley Science Center for a virtual visit to the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, located in Geneva. With Senior Instructional Media Specialist Heric Flores-Rueda projecting images on a classroom screen through video conferencing, Morgan’s students enjoyed a real-time view of the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) laboratory and an on-screen peek inside the collider. Physicist Steven Goldfarb—a member of the team that discovered the Higgs Boson Particle—led the tour, explaining the experiments underway, as well as offering a question/answer period.

This course, a sophomore-level gateway to the physics major, is new to the department in this format, said Morgan, and slated to become part of the curriculum, due to its popularity. This semester five seniors, six juniors, six sophomores, and what Morgan calls “one lucky first-year student”—admitted after an interview—make up the class.

Ganbarg ’88 Co-Produces Another Grammy Nominee with Dear Evan Hansen

The Broadway cast recording of the Tony Award–winning musical Dear Evan Hansen earned a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album on Nov. 28. Produced with Atlantic Record’s President of A&R (artists and repertoire) Pete Ganbarg ’88, along with music supervisor and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, creators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and Broadway producer Stacey Mindich, the album had debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 when it came out last February.

Chanda ’96, Peltzman ’96 Podcast With WNYC Studios Has Fleas

Official Logo of the podcast by Koyalee Chanda ’96 and Adam Pelzman ’96 in conjunction with WNYC Studios.

On Dec. 4, This Podcast Has Fleas, a partnership between WNYC Studios and kids’ television veterans Adam Peltzman ’96 and Koyalee Chanda ’96, joined that studio’s roster of innovative audio programming and signaled its foray into children’s podcasting.

This Podcast Has Fleas is six-episode scripted comedy series about a dog, Waffles (Emily Lynne), and a cat, Jones (Jay Pharoah), who live in the same house, each hosting their own competing podcasts. Additional household pets are a goldfish played by Alec Baldwin and a gerbil played by Eugene Mirman.

Chanda and Peltzman, whose television credits include Blue’s Clues, Wallykazam! and the Emmy-winning Odd Squad, The Electric Company and The Backyardigans spoke with The Wesleyan Connection about their path from Wesleyan into children’s television programming, and now into their newest audio project.

Artist/Designer Marowitz ’81 Rocks A Grammy Nomination with Best Recording Package

Independent designer for music Gail Marowitz—here with singer-songwriters Jonathan Coulton and Aimee Mann—says that with its resurgence, vinyl recordings have brought “a little kick” to her schedule. “I recently spoke at a conference about vinyl and I pointed out that nobody really invited anyone over to listen to iTunes on your laptop, but you will invite friends over to hear a record on your turntable and pass around the album jacket. Kids are seeing value in what I saw when I was their age. I say that I have a misspent youth in record stores—but I guess it wasn’t misspent. I guess it panned out.” (photo by Sheryl Nields.

This year the list of Grammy nominations includes work by Gail Marowitz ’81. Founder of The Visual Strategist, a company devoted to designing for music, Marowitz is not a first-timer on the coveted list. Her work has garnered her three nominations in the Best Recording Package category, with a win in 2006.

Now in the running is Marowitz’s work on Jonathan Coulton’s Solid State.

Marowitz, who claims “a misspent youth, looking at albums in record stores” and sends e-mails under the name “childorock,” says that her fascination with album covers began when she was 6 and her older brother brought home the Beatles’ Revolver. “There was so much to look at—drawings and collage. I remember staring at it for long periods of time.”

Miranda ’02 up for Moana Grammy, Receives Special Latin Grammy Award

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, here in a still from the official video for “Almost Like Praying,” which he wrote and recorded with a number of other artists to benefit hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. He recently was honored at the Latin Grammy Awards and has been nominated for a Grammy Award for a song he wrote for Disney’s Moana.

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, the Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur Genius, and Tony Award winner for Hamilton and In the Heights was honored with the Latin Recording Academy President’s Merit Award at the 18th annual Latin Grammy Awards on Nov. 16. This is a special award, not given annually, and it was presented to the well known composer, lyricist, and performer by Latin Recording Academy President/CEO Gabriel Abaro to honor Miranda’s many outstanding contributions to the Latin community.

Abaroa told  Billboard, “Lin-Manuel’s urban and social poetry have provided strength and encouragement to every Latino motivated to get ahead. He has brought pride to our community by reminding us of the resilience and fortitude we demonstrate on a daily basis.”

Most recently he composed and released “Almost Like Praying—Relief Single for Puerto Rico, (Atlantic Records, Oct. 6, 2017). Miranda, who performed the song with various artists, donated all proceeds to The Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOS Disaster Relief Fund to help the survivors of Hurricane Maria

Additionally, when the Grammy nominations were released on Nov. 28, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work appeared in two categories, both related to his work on the soundtrack for Moana, Disney’s animated adventure-comedy. Moana: The Songs, a compilation of works by various artists, including Miranda as singer and performer, appears in the category of Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media. Additionally, a song he wrote for that film, “How Far I’ll Go” (performed by Auli’i Cravalho), appears in the Best Song Written For Visual Media category.

In an interview with Hollywood Reporter Melinda Newman, Miranda explained that the insight into creating “How Far..” for the title character of the film came in recalling his own teenage years:

Where she [Moana] and I met was having a calling — not necessarily even understanding the calling, but knowing that it’s there inside. I knew I wanted a life in some creative endeavor for as long as I can remember. For me, I think the song took the final turn it needed when I realized it’s not a song about a young woman who hates where she is and needs to get out, it’s a song about a woman who loves where she lives and her family and her culture and still has this feeling. So what do you do with it? I related to that as well and so that was the final insight we needed to get that moment to really strike a chord because it’s messier, it’s complicated.

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She Makes Comics: Award-Winning Film by Stotter ’13, Meaney ’07 Available on Netflix

When Patrick Meaney ’07 and Marisa Stotter ’13 wanted a logo for their award-winning documentary, She Makes Comics, they commissioned artist Courtney Wirth. “We wanted something that evoked Rosie the Riveter, which we loved and thought it would be both recognizable and resonate with our audience,” says Stotter. ”I have original hanging on my wall, and whenever I see that strong, confident pose it’s a wonderful boost, a surge of energy to my heart.”

She Makes Comics, a documentary directed by Marisa Stotter ’13, and produced by Patrick Meaney ’07 and Stotter, won Best Documentary at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con International Film Festival, and was released on Netflix on Oct. 15.  Also available on iTunes and Amazon Prime, the film tells the story of the women—artists, writers, executives, as well as ardent fans—in the comic book industry. The documentary has played at film festivals around the world since its release in December 2014.

Both a thoroughly researched history—featuring luminaries such as Karen Green, the comic librarian at Columbia University, as well as women who wrote and drew comics in the 1950s and ’60s—and a lively story for a general-audience, She Makes Comics is a collaboration between two Wesleyan alumni, one a film major and one an English major—whose years as undergraduates had no overlap.

Zeitlin ’04, Janvey ’06, Quinn ’05 Produce Brimstone and Glory Documentary

The documentary Brimstone and Glory, captures a sense of both danger and exultation in the weeklong festival in Tultepec, Mexico, where pyrotechnics are the major industry. The film is produced by film studies alumni Benh Zeitlin ’04, Dan Janvey ’06, Kellen Quinn ’05 and others.

Brimstone and Glory is the feature-length documentary produced by Benh Zeitlin ’04, Dan Janvey ’06, Kellen Quinn ’05 and others, on the annual festival in Tultepec, Mexico, where pyrotechnics are the major industry. The weeklong celebration honors San Juan de Dios, patron saint of firework makers, and celebrates the artisans who dedicate themselves to pyrotechnics. Directed by Viktor Jakovleski, and edited by Affonso Gonçalves, the film is scored by Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer, the two who collaborated on the Beasts of the Southern Wild score.

Dubbed “Best Documentary Feature” at the San Francisco Film Festival, Brimstone and Glory opens in theaters this fall. In preparation, Quinn spoke about this collaboration in this Q&A:

Q: What was the genesis of this project?
A: Viktor, the director, was shown some photographs of the festival by an artist who had recently been there. He was amazed but completely baffled by the images of people “raving in the fire”, as he puts it. Sometime later, during a Berlin techno party, the crowds and sensory experience reminded him of one of the images. He recognized a connection between the collective effervescence of the techno scene that is a big part of his life and the ritualistic elements of what he had seen in those pictures of Tultepec. His initial idea was a short film, but after doing an exploratory first shoot, it became clear that there was something bigger and more ambitious to be made. Ultimately, the film shot over three consecutive festivals.

Q: And what brought you in?
A: In 2014 I was just beginning to move into producing and I was eager to work with friends. Dan Janvey told me about the project and it was immediately intriguing. Also, my mother grew up in Mexico and I spent a lot of time there as a child visiting my grandmother. I felt that working on a documentary in Mexico would offer a really meaningful way of reconnecting with the country.