Kate Carlisle

Solar Storms a Wake-Up Call, Redfield Says

solar_storm_2012 (3)

This NASA image shows a solar storm in early 2012.

A July NASA report that a huge solar storm narrowly missed Earth in 2012 – avoiding catastrophic damage to energy, transportation and communications systems – has caused a media stir and some worry among Earthlings.

What’s more, other recent reports say that Earth is overdue for a devastating storm of the kind known as a “Carrington event” after an 1859 storm that disrupted telegraph signals and caused other damage in a still-nascent industrial world. Named for 19th-century English astronomer Richard Carrington, it was the largest of its kind on record. A similar event now, in a world dependent on digital communications and electrical energy, would cause widespread, long-lasting power outages and disrupt transportation and communications planet-wide. Eric Mack, a science blogger for Forbes, referred facetiously to a reversion to “Amish-style” civilization.

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, says the recent near-miss isn’t a cause for worldwide freakout, but should be a wake-up call; while a catastrophic solar storm may be several generations away, “it’s going to happen,” and scientists should be working on ways to better predict the event.

“I think it’s really important for us to understand what’s going on and have some good perspective on that because if we don’t prepare for it, we’re going to suffer the consequences,” he said. “We don’t need a Manhattan-style project and (to) devote 10 percent of our GDP to this one. But we do need to pay attention.”

President Roth Defends Liberal Arts

As the price of a college education soars, some are wondering: is the price of college worth it? And in an economy that places a premium on high-tech skills, is a liberal education even relevant? President Michael Roth ’78 argues that a liberal arts education is actually more important than ever. He makes that case in his new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Mattters, and told NPR’s Eric Westervelt that the debate over the value of higher education is hardly a new one.

On All Things Considered, August 3, Roth said:  “There are people who just think, ‘Some of us just don’t need a lot of education. Most people need something more specialized because the economy has shifted.’ … Throughout American history people have said, ‘Yes, it’s because the economy has shifted.’ They said that in 1918, they said that in 1948, and now they’re saying it again. Today the shifts in the economy mean technological change will only produce accelerated pace of innovation, of changing relations to audiences. A broad, wide-ranging education is the best way to be able to shape that change rather than just be victimized by it.”

Roth went on to address the value of  education as a driver of equity and inclusion in America, warning that broad, liberal arts education must continue to be made available to all students, not just those who can afford it:

“Higher education in the United States has traditionally functioned as a vehicle for social mobility,” he said. ” And as costs have escalated and financial aid has not kept up with those costs, elite education has become a way of cementing privilege rather than opening up elite [education] to more voices and more talents”

Cardinals Share Stories, Gifts As Campaign Nears $350 Million

Share your "This is Why" reason you love and value your Wesleyan experience and education through the new campaign website.

Share your “This is Why” reason you love and value your Wesleyan experience and education through the campaign website.

From a journalist who launched a publishing start-up, to the multifaceted designer of the “Fremont Troll,” to a noted international lawyer, scores of Cardinals took time last year to share their “This Is Why” stories with Wesleyan.

That loyalty – and the many gifts also shared by alumni, parents and friends – led to a stellar year in the university’s fundraising campaign. Generous donors gave a total of $44.3 million in gifts and pledges in fiscal 2014. The campaign raised $43.8 million in cash, more than any previous year. And $25 million went directly into the endowment. Currently, giving to the THIS IS WHY campaign stands at $349.3 million toward a goal of $400 million.

“The Wesleyan community – alumni, parents, friends – has been generous in its support again,” said Chuck Fedolfi ’90, director of the Wesleyan Fund. “They have truly helped make the Wesleyan experience what it should be for our students on campus.”

Fedolfi said the Fund exceeded its annual goal of $10.25 million by $100,000, and stressed the importance of annual gifts.

“Our donors recognize that we need support every year,” Fedolfi said. “Without that consistent support, we just wouldn’t be the outstanding institution we are today.”

When Water “Unmixes”: Starr Commentary Published in Nature Physics

Water is the most ubiquitous fluid on Earth, and plays a foundational role in life as we know it.  And yet the complexity of this seemingly simple molecule remains a vigorously debated area of scientific research to this day.  Writing in the most recent issue of Nature Physics, Professor of Physics Francis Starr provides a commentary on recent research to uncover the mystery of water’s unusual properties.  

Francis Starr

Francis Starr

“We all learn as children that oil and water don’t mix,” Starr writes. ” If there was only one fluid – say just the water – then “unmixing” should not even be a possibility.  However, it turns out that evidence suggests that, under unusual supercooled conditions, water can unmix from itself, forming two distinct fluids, both of which are pure water.  And it turns out this unusual behavior just might help explain many of water’s other unusual and vital features.”

Nature Physics, part of the prestigious group of Nature journals, is published monthly.

Starr’s research at Wesleyan focuses on computational approaches to understand the emergent complexity of soft and biological matter.  His lab has explored DNA modeling and nanotechnology, lipid membrane dynamics, and polymer films and composites. Undergraduates and graduate students work together in the Starr lab, emphasizing connections to experimental results.

Williams ’02 Runs “Grass-Roots” B-Ball Program

From left, Jason Forde '01, Terrance Williams '02, Andre Charles '06, Justin Weir '02 work with an afterschool program devoted to developing student athletes academically, socially and athletically.

From left, Jason Forde ’01, Terrance Williams ’02, Andre Charles ’06, Justin Weir ’02 work with an afterschool program devoted to developing student athletes academically, socially and athletically.

The Team Scan Cardinals, founded by Terrance Williams ’02, and managed and coached by Williams and Wesleyan friends Justin Weir ’02, Andre Charles ’06 and Jason Forde ’01, is featured August 3 in a New York Times Magazine article. Team Scan is a “grass-roots” youth program that participates in the Elite Youth Basketball League, a recruiting platform started by Nike that has spawned some of the best basketball prospects of recent memory, including Andrew Wiggins, the 2014 top overall pick in the NBA draft.

The Times writes: “As a kid growing up in the borough, Williams was a decent basketball player but a better student, earning admission to a New Hampshire boarding school and eventually Wesleyan University. Williams, who is 35, started Team Scan as a way of reverse-engineering his own path: He wanted to help local kids turn their above-average jump shots into scholarships for private school and college — if not to play for the University of Connecticut, this year’s national champion, then perhaps Connecticut College. He brought on three friends from Wesleyan, who began mentoring kids from the neighborhood and cold-calling boarding schools throughout New England on their behalf. Together, they hoped to create a basketball version of Prep for Prep, the renowned New York City program that sends underprivileged students to private schools and helps them survive once they get there.”

The article traces Team Scan’s trek through the contests that make up the EYBL’s championship series, and describes the relationship of players, coaches, parents, mentors and journalists that work in and follow the league.

Michele Roberts ’77 Makes News as New NBPA Chief

The first woman to lead a North American men’s pro sports union is Michele Roberts ’77. The Washington Post’s Cindy Boren reports that Roberts, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, was elected as executive director of the NBA Players Association.

“Let’s be clear: I’m sure there were people that noticed I was a girl,” Roberts told reporters. … “My sense was, the only thing people cared about was my resolve.”

According to Boren, Roberts will need that resolve. “NBA players believe that the collective bargaining agreement that settled the last lockout was favorable to owners and, when this one expires in 2017, she’ll face NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, whose popularity soared in the wake of the Donald Sterling mess.”

After graduating from Wesleyan, Roberts got her law degree from the University of California and spent eight years as a public defender. She currently works as a trial lawyer for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players association, told The Post that Roberts, whom he has known for years, is an excellent choice for the NBAPA job. “I know the players have chosen well,” he said. ” Michele is a tremendously skilled lawyer … who is formidable in a very measured way.”

Wesleyan Launches Pilot Pre-Frosh Math and Science Program

Ishita Mukerji, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, leads a lab tour.

Ishita Mukerji, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, leads a lab tour.

New students interested in math and the sciences,  who want to get a jump start on their college experience, are taking advantage of a new program this summer.

The Wesleyan Physical Sciences and Mathematics Scholars Program will welcome 11 students from the Class of 2018 to campus for its debut summer session July 27-Aug. 1. An additional 11 students will participate online.

“We’re really excited to put this program into place,” said Ishita Mukerji, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “One common variable among all these scholars is a very strong interest in science.”

Gruen Elected Fellow of Hastings Center

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen is chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, has been elected a fellow of the prestigious Hastings Center.

The 45-year-old center, an independent bioethics research institute, addresses ethics in the areas of health, medicine and the environment.

“I’m delighted to be elected a fellow of the Hastings Center,” Gruen said. “The research publications (from Hastings) are cutting edge, and have been an integral part of my teaching.”

Gruen is coordinator of Wesleyan Animal Studies and director of the university’s Ethics in Society project, which aims to develop and foster teaching, scholarship, and institutional reflection on the ethical challenges facing individuals and society. Her work lies at the intersection of ethical theory and ethical practice, with a particular focus on ethical issues that impact those often overlooked in traditional ethical investigations, including women, people of color, and non-human animals.

Singer’s Study Reveals that Finicky Feeders Avoid Bird Predation

In a recent study, Associate Professor Mike Singer compared 41 caterpillar species to show the link between dietary breadth and vulnerability to predators.

In a recent study, Associate Professor Mike Singer compared 41 caterpillar species to show the link between dietary breadth and vulnerability to predators.

Grandmothers used to warn youngsters against being “a jack of all trades, and a master of none,” and with good reason, at least in the animal kingdom, according to research by Mike Singer, associate professor of biology, associate professor of environmental studies.

Singer’s decade of research in the ecosystems of Connecticut forests reveals that caterpillars with finicky feeding habits avoid predation from birds, whereas those that feed generally on many plants become meals for baby birds. The “specialist” bugs are much better at survival.

Singer and five collaborators published these findings in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences June 16.

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

“Dietary specialization of herbivores drives the dynamics of this food chain,” Singer explained. Caterpillars with generalized diets are less likely than specialists to be camouflaged or to display warning colors or features to avian predators.

A familiar example of a dietary specialist is the caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly, which feeds exclusively on milkweed plants. This caterpillar accumulates toxins from its food-plants, rendering it unpalatable to birds and other predators. The toxic caterpillar is distinctively striped and colored as a warning to its enemies.

Army Veteran Olivieri to Join Class of 2018 through Posse Foundation

Andrew Olivieri

Andrew Olivieri

In the fall of 2008, Andrew Olivieri felt like he was staring down four years of uncertainty, dissatisfaction and “wasting my parents’ money.” A senior at the Bronx High School of Science, where most graduates are expected to attend college, Olivieri just didn’t feel ready.

But the Army life had always attracted him, as a path that led to maturity, a work ethic, and an opportunity to be part of something larger than himself.

“I wanted to be a part of history, and contribute to it,” Olivieri said. “I never wanted to be one of those people who just say, ‘Oh, I thought about joining the military.’ I thought I should just do it.”

Soon Olivieri was starting what would be the first of four deployments with the Army Rangers, including many months in Afghanistan and half a year in Farsi language immersion, which “helped me understand a culture that I only knew through war,” he said. His last experiences in the Army, working with Afghan commandos, were deeply enriched by his working knowledge of their language.

In September, Olivieri’s next big adventure begins: as a Wesleyan freshman. He’ll be in Wesleyan’s first group of 10 U.S. military veterans on campus through the Posse Foundation.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “The student community seems very active, and that’s what I’m looking for. I want to share my experience in an environment where people are willing to listen and willing to share their lives with me.”

As he neared the end of his military service, a family friend recommended Olivieri to Posse, and he applied, seeking a school where he could explore what had become a passion for him in the military: international relations. “Wesleyan seemed perfect,” he said.

Now 22, he’ll join nine other military veterans in the Class of 2018. This is the inaugural year for Posse at Wesleyan; the university hopes to add 10 veterans per class for the next three years.

Posse is one of five programs the university is highlighting June 15-21, as Access2Wes week celebrates diversity and inclusion at Wesleyan. During this week, alumni and friends can support these programs, which also include A Better Chance, Prep for Prep, QuestBridge and the Freeman Asian Scholars, with their gift through the Wesleyan Fund.


Trustees, Roth Discussing the Future of Wesleyan Fraternities

The Board of Trustees has asked President Michael Roth to propose a plan for the future of fraternities at Wesleyan, following a discussion at their spring meeting May 22-23.

On his blog, Roth said he would deliver a plan to the board soon, ideally before the start of the next semester but at the latest before the next board meeting in November. His thinking has changed since his first year at Wesleyan, when he wrote about his support for Greek life, Roth said.

“Six years of hearing about high-risk drinking at fraternities and dealing with fallout from highly publicized incidents of sexual violence have had an effect,” he wrote in a blog post this week. “ Of course, the larger world has changed too. Today there’s more emphasis upon Title IX and a much greater awareness of sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Education says that under Title IX, schools must “take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”

Roth cited a WSA survey showing that 47 percent of Wesleyan students feel less safe in fraternity houses than in other party spaces; the great majority of those think that making the fraternities co-educational would be helpful in making those spaces safer.

“Are fraternities at Wesleyan hostile environments?

Police Alert Community to At-Large Sex Offender

The Middletown Police Department advises that a violent sex offender remains at large from Connecticut Valley Hospital; he is 38-year-old David Lane.  There is no specific information that he is in the area of the Wesleyan campus, but we wanted to alert you nonetheless.  More details, as well as a picture of Mr. Lane, have been circulated in local media. If you have friends or family on campus, please share the message.