Eric Gershon

Eric Gershon is editor and new media writer in the Wesleyan University Office of University Communications.

Cohan on Baseball, Bacteria and Koufax’s Perfect Game

In an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times, Frederick Cohan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, discusses how his experience as a child watching perhaps the greatest “perfect game” in baseball history – The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax’s 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs in 1965 – provided lessons for the mining of old data for both baseball front offices and biologists such as himself who specialize in studying bacteria. Read the op-ed here.

Bolton Published in Mutation Research

Philip Bolton, professor of chemistry, has published “Complexes of mismatched and complementary DNA with minor groove binders: Structures at nucleotide resolution via an improved hydroxyl radical cleavage methodology” in Mutation Research, 2011. The article is online here.

Sweet, Velazquez, Holman Lead Small Army in Prepping Student Housing

Facilities managers Deborah Holman, Mario Velazquez and Jeff Sweet oversee Wesleyan's summer maintenance program. They have about 60 days to clean, paint, inspect and repair all rooms in Wesleyan's 225 residences.

Facilities managers Jeff Sweet, Mario Velazquez and Deborah Holman began the summer of 2011 staring down the number 2,863.

That’s the total number of beds in Wesleyan’s undergraduate housing pool – somewhat greater than the number of bedrooms in the university’s 225 residences.

In an annual rite known as the summer maintenance program, Sweet, Velazquez and Holman oversee the inspection, basic repair and cleaning of each and every room in Wesleyan’s varied housing stock, from the aptly named High Rise to the stately Eclectic Society to the multitudinous wood-frame houses.

The project amounts to a carefully choreographed dash toward the end of August – the fast approaching moment when new students arrive en mass. (Most returning students arrive in September.)

“There’s a method to our madness,” says Sweet, who joined the physical plant as a purchasing agent in 1986 and has been a facilities manager since the early 1990s.

All told, the facilities managers and their crews have about 60 days for testing thousands of lights, locks, latches, knobs, windows and appliances – and repairing them asnecessary. Painters and cleaning crews follow closely behind.

All these tasks must becarefully scheduled around temporary summer occupancies – by alumni and other visitors for Reunion and Commencement, as well as summer academic and athletic program participants – and around major renovations. (The latter work is carried out by the physical plant’s Construction Services unit.)

Along the way, a small army of tradespeople and laborers, about 120 strong, answers calls for help with emergencies, such as this summer’s flooding of the Center for the Arts due to heavy rains.

“They’re moving around doing a lot of different things,” Sweet said of the team, a dedicated and skilled crew of carpenters, painters, locksmiths, general craftsmen, electricians, plumbers and movers, mostly full-time physical plant personnel. “We’re getting work orders all the time.”

Top-to-bottom maintenance of Wesleyan’s residential buildings occurs during summer, because that’s the only season when they’re mostly empty. Planning starts during the winter.

The hard labor begins in late spring, just before Reunion and Commencement, after most underclassmen have left campus. In a burst of activity over three-and-a-half days, the maintenance team prepares 500 beds in university residences for guests. Within days theteam is in full swing campus-wide.

Come August, platoons of custodians working double shifts and deep into the night. By the end of the summer maintenance program – scheduled for August 26 – the team will have scoured every bedroom for defects large and small, fixing jammed locks and sticky windows, cleaning carpets and adding fresh paint.

In all, the project consumes about 600 gallons of floor finish, as well as about 1,000 gallons of off-white paint known as “Wesleyan white.”

Also in August the team turns to classroom buildings, athletic facilities libraries and a host of other non-residential university buildings.

Workers have occasionally found bizarre surprises in some residences as they go about their work – a five-foot headless mechanical Santa Claus found in a Pearl Street attic years ago is legendary – but this rarely happens any longer, according to Sweet. He attributes this to steady communication to students from Residential Life about rules and expectations. Not to mention fines issued for infractions discovered during the academic year.

“Waste Not,” a student organization that collects unwanted possessions in the spring and sells them in the fall, further helps to minimize unwelcome detritus, he said.

Alas, Sweet joked, referring to a campus artifact that has repeatedly vanished and rematerialized since 1957: “We didn’t find the cannon this year.”


In New York Times, Abrams ’12 Writes of Finding First Love

In a June 30 “Modern Love” column in The New York Times, Lindsay Abrams ’12 writes that she “designed my ideal boyfriend in a dorm room voodoo ceremony orchestrated by my roommate…”

“…My specifications were that he be tall, scruffy and a bit older than me. I preferred that he major in math or the sciences to offset my artistic nature, and that he like to watch TV with me at night. I know that vague characteristics like height and age do not true love make, but I was warned that being too specific on a campus of only 2,900 undergrads was likely to backfire. My roommate’s last client had requested a boy who always wore scarves. Two years later, he had yet to appear.”

The full article, titled, “Love Delivered, Prematurely,” is online here.


5 Questions With . . . Vera Schwarcz of East Asian Studies

Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, has visited China at least once a year since 1977. She's currently writing and documenting the poetic renditions of Chinese historian/poet Chen Yinke for an upcoming book.

This issue we ask “5 Questions” of Vera Schwarcz, who spent the spring semester as a Lady Davis Fellow at Hebrew University in Israel. Schwarcz is the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of history, professor of East Asian studies.  She returns to campus this fall.

Q: What will you remember most about your recent sojourn in Israel?

A: What lingers most in mind is the vibrant commitment to live fully the values of Jewish tradition. In Jerusalem, each day I witnessed some act of kindness, some conscious effort to reach out to strangers in a way that pays homage to the Torah in a concrete fashion. This ancient city has the power to renew the spirit. My own personal satisfaction was also enhanced by the high level of Chinese Studies in Israel today. I am currently mentoring graduate theses all over the country in addition to having taught an advanced research seminar at Hebrew University. Who could have imagined the close ties between China and Israel a few decades ago? I had not anticipated that my knowledge of East Asia would become so useful in building links between two of the oldest civilizations on earth.

Q: You are an expert on China. Do you get to that country often, and what do you make of the dramatic ways that China’s increasing economic and political power are changing society there?

A: I have been going to China at least once a year since 1977. After my longest sojourns in 1978-79 (as a member of the first group of official exchange scholars) I have not ceased to marvel at the rapid economic reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping. The pace of the transformation has been, simply put, beyond imagination. I still cannot fathom how my Chinese friends have managed to survive in such a rapidly developing society. We speak about this problem often, as well as the burden of mental illness that haunts a society still ravaged by the Cultural Revolution and the unspoken trauma of 1989. I often find myself on a street corner of Beijing

Summer Conference Addresses Human-Animal Relations

Wesleyan's Animal Studies is hosting the Animals and Society Institute-Wesleyan Animal Studies Fellowship Program Conference June 27-30 in Usdan 108. The event is open to the public.

An international group of scholars convenes at Wesleyan on June 27 for a four-day conference on topics in animal studies, including animal naming, the ways children mourn animal deaths, 19th-Century pet-keeping and the human impulse to laugh when playing with dogs.

The conference is the culminating event in the first annual Animals and Society Institute-Wesleyan Animal Studies Fellowship Program, which brings to campus a broad range of scholars studying human-animal relations.

The group includes professors and Ph.D. candidates in a variety of fields, including psychology, sociology, philosophy, English, women’s studies, veterinary medicine and environmental studies. Eight of the presenters are fellows, the others are invited guests.

“We have been extremely impressed with the diversity and high quality of the projects that the fellows are working on,” says Professor and Chair of Philosophy Lori Gruen, a co-host of the program, along with Kari Weil, University Professor of Letters.

Gruen’s talk is called “Pan thanatology – Mourning Chimpanzees.” Weil will deliver a talk called “Animal Deaths and Melancholy Becomings.”

For a full schedule of lectures and their titles, please click here.

The conference runs from Monday, June 27 through Thursday June 30. It is free and open to the public. Events take place in Room 108 of the Usdan University Center.

Says Weil: “Given the exciting, compassionate and sometimes tough discussions that Lori and I have had with the fellows,

With Bird Blind, Architecture Students Help Nature Lovers See

Wesleyan's faculty-student design collaborative North Studio created a bird-viewing structure inside a 700-acre nature preserve. The bird blind serves as a viewing platform, a resting station and shelter for visitors.

Lots of people like watching birds. Understandably, birds don’t always like people watching them.

For the Audubon Center at Bent of the River, a 700-acre nature preserve in Southbury, Conn., this presented a problem: the swallows and kingfishers along a popular trail were perpetually startled by human visitors. Assistant Professor of Art Elijah Huge and the 11 students in his Architecture II class devised a solution – a chic bird blind they designed and built from scratch.

The structure represents the third major design-build project for North Studio, a faculty-student design collaborative Huge founded in 2006 that is cultivating a niche in architectural design for nature preserves.

Previously, Huge and his North Studio students, who are as likely to major in sociology or German studies as in studio art, conceived and built an award-winning multi-level bird-viewing platform for an Audubon Society sanctuary in Portland, Conn. A subsequent iteration of the class designed and built a Sukkah, or temporary Jewish ritual structure, at Wesleyan.

Nature preserves work well as clients for North Studio, which tries to balance three objectives – producing design research,

7 Wesleyan Students Receive Fulbright Fellowships

A Ph.D candidate and six recent graduates received Fulbright Fellowships for the 2011-12 academic year.

Aaron Paige, a Ph.D. student in ethnomusicology, has received a Fulbright Fellowship to support his dissertation fieldwork in Malaysia, as well as a research grant from the Society for Asian Music to support research in Chennai, India. The dissertation project, “From Kuala Lumpur to Kollywood: Music, Language, and Identity in Tamil Solisai,” involves multi-sited ethnography and will trace the various meanings of Tamil hip-hop as it travels within and between local, national, and transnational spaces. Paige’s work will take him to Chennai in the summer and fall and to Malaysia for an extended visit starting in late 2011.

William Krieger ’11 received a Fulbright Fellowship for one year’s study and research in Germany.

Benjamin LaFirst ’11, Alaina Aristide ’11, Kaitlin Martin ’11, Alessandra Stachowski ’11 and Alison Cies ’11 received Fulbright English-Teaching Assistantships. LaFirst will teach in Austria; Aristide will teach in Argentina; Martin will teach in Russia; and Stachowski will teach in Brazil. Cies declined her assistantship to teach in South Korea.

Teaching assistantships in Argentina and Brazil are highly competitive, with 7:1 odds for Argentina and 10:1 for Brazil.

The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the United States Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.

It was established in 1946 by the U.S. Congress to “enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”

In Current Biology, Cohan Muses on Bacteria, Baseball

In a lengthy Q&A in the June 7 issue of Current Biology, Professor of Biology Fred Cohan talks about the evolution of bacteria, his favorite course at Wesleyan – and the legendary 1965 baseball game that impressed upon him the power and possibility of data. For the full Q&A, click here.

Graduate Student Wins Grant for Work on Televised Puppetry

Po-wei Weng, a Ph.D. candidate in Wesleyan’s ethnomusicology program, has won a $15,000 grant to support his dissertation work on a popular Taiwanese Puppet television series. Competing with applicants from all disciplines and many top colleges in the United States, Weng was this year the only person from the music studies field to win an award from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. His dissertation project is “Music, Technology, and Mediated Modernity: Soundscape of Pili Budaixi in Taiwan.” Currently in Taiwan, Weng returns to Middletown in August.

5 Questions With . . . Dick Miller on Keeping Track of the Money

Dick Miller

This issue we ask “5 Questions” of Dick Miller, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, Emeritus, who retired from active teaching in 2006. Next fall, he’ll be back in the classroom with a liberal arts spin on the uses and abuses of financial accounting.

Q: In the fall, you’ll emerge from retirement to teach ECON 127, “Introduction to Financial Accounting,” a type of course that’s rarely been offered at Wesleyan. Why this course, why now and why you?

A: The Economics Department has recognized that we need an accounting course in our curricular offerings, but we have difficulty in getting a visitor to teach one. Our students are at a disadvantage in job interviews and in the first weeks on the job if they do not have some basics. ­ Some of our seniors cannot distinguish a balance sheet from an income statement, and that is a long way from discounted cash flow analysis or cost of capital estimation. I taught a half course in accounting some years ago, and several months ago the department chairman, Gil Skillman, asked me if I would be interested in teaching such a course, and I think that this is an opportunity for me to contribute further to the Wesleyan educational enterprise. The Career Advisory Council, a group of 24 alumni mostly in business and put together by Mike Sciola, Director of the Career Resource Center, has been very encouraging and supportive in our mounting this version of accounting.

Q: More than 70 students have pre-registered for the course. What do you think is driving interest in the subject?

A: Almost certainly the interest comes from students’ realization that accounting would be a valuable addition to their resume. And likely they think that the material will be useful not only in careers but in understanding topics in personal finance and in issues reported in the news.