Lauren Rubenstein

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Kirn’s Songbird Neuroscience Research Featured on WNPR, in Hartford Courant

John Kirn

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, was interviewed on WNPR public radio on June 25 about his research on neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, in the brains of zebra finches.

“The birds that had managed to preserve their songs the longest had the most new neurons, which was completely counter to our prediction. It suggests that maybe, at least in some cases and in some brain regions, new neurons are being added in order to preserve what’s already been learned,” Kirn said in the interview, describing the findings of his latest research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in May.

Kirn’s research was also highlighted in a feature story in The Hartford Courant. According to the article:

Birds can create new brain cells through most of their brains, while the creation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, can occur in only a few regions of a mammal’s brain. Better understanding of how neurogenesis happens in birds’ brains, Kirn said, could lead to medical breakthroughs for humans.

“If we can understand how they manage to do this on the molecular level, it might give us some insights that we can use,” [Kirn] said, adding that stem therapy is one area that could benefit. “There’s something special about the bird brain that might be important in how we can create therapies for human brain damage,” he said.

Craighead Publishes Op-ed on Confronting the “Fiscal Cliff”

Bill Craighead

In an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant on June 24, Bill Craighead, assistant professor of economics, proposes a policy solution to avoid economic disaster as the U.S. confronts the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of 2013. As Craighead explains in the piece, the cliff refers to the simultaneous expiration of Bush-era income tax cuts and Social Security payroll tax cuts, as well as automatic cuts in government spending mandated following last year’s debt ceiling stand-off.

Craighead proposes that, “The tax increases could be made to occur at a more appropriate time by instituting triggering criteria that would delay them until the state of the economy has improved and then phase them in. For example, the tax changes could be set to begin once the unemployment rate has fallen to a more reasonable level, like 5.5 percent, and remained there for six months. At that point, the increases could occur in three or four steps, with each one occurring as long as the unemployment rate has remained below a specified level for six months.”

He concludes, “By sparing the economy a big blow next year, while putting government debt on a reasonable long-run path, [this plan] would buy some time to work out bigger issues after the next election.”

Helping to Heal with Songbirds

In a recent interview on WNPR public radio and a feature story in The Hartford Courant, John Kirn, professor of biology, professor & chair of neuroscience & behavior, discussed his research into the neuroscience behind song learning and production in zebra finches. His latest study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, revealed surprising evidence that neurogenesis–or the formation of new neurons in the brain–may help zebra finches to retain existing knowledge as well as learn new information.


Craighead Proposes Policy to Ease Fiscal Cliff Impact

In an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant, Assistant Professor of Economics Bill Craighead proposes a policy solution to avoid economic disaster as the U.S. confronts the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of 2013. He advises “delaying the tax increases scheduled at the beginning of next year until the unemployment rate falls to a more acceptable level,” and then gradually phasing them in.

Grabel Co-recipient of State Grant

According to the Hartford CourantLaura Grabel, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, was among this year’s recipients of stem cell grants from the State of Connecticut announced by Governor Dannel P. Malloy this week. Grabel received $500,000 in funding for the stem cell outreach program she runs together with a University of Connecticut professor. Since 2006, the program has held workshops and retreats for stem cell researchers, and has educated the general public by sending speakers to schools and various organizations.

Dupuy Comments on Development in Haiti

For an article on economic development in Haiti, The Miami Herald turned to Alex Dupuy, John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, chair of the African American Studies Program. “Very few of the dollars that are invested in Haiti in these assembly industries are going to remain in Haiti,” Dupuy tells the Herald. “And since the assembly industry is the only game in town, and there is nothing else being planned around it to grow the economy, it’s not going to have any long-lasting effect on the growth of the economy.”

Do Campaign Ads Work?

In an article in The Washington Post examining the effectiveness of political advertising in presidential campaigns, Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government, director of the Wesleyan Media Project, says political advertising “matters at the margins” and “might help in a close election.” However, factors such as the state of the economy and partisan identification are much more influential, she says.

713 Undergraduates Receive Wesleyan Degrees at Commencement (with photos, videos)

Seven-hundred-and-thirteen undergraduates received degrees during Wesleyan's Commencement Ceremony May 27.

Note: Links to Reunion & Commencement speeches, photos and videos are below this article. Keep reading! 

The world is changing at a dizzying pace and uncertainty is rising, but luckily, “Wesleyan has prepared you to live and thrive in this unpredictable world,” U.S. Senator Michael Bennet ’87 told the Class of 2012 in his Commencement Address. “This is a school that rewards curiosity. It challenges you to test [your] assumptions. It encourages flexibility—of mind, of approach, even of body, if you took that class in acrobatic yoga. Wesleyan has taught you that having a plan counts for less—a lot less—than having your bearings when that plan falls apart.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet ’87.

An honorary doctor of laws was conferred upon Bennet at the 180th Commencement Ceremony at Wesleyan University on Sunday, May 27. The ceremony took place on Andrus Field under sunny skies. This year, Wesleyan awarded 713 Bachelor of Arts degrees; 22 Master of Arts degrees; 44 Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degrees; three Master of Philosophy degrees; and 13 Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Bennet—son of Wesleyan President Emeritus Douglas Bennet ’59, P’87, P’94—was elected to his first full term in the U.S. Senate in November 2010. Formerly as the Denver Schools Superintendent, and now as a member of the Senate Education Committee, he has been a tireless advocate for bold, locally driven changes to public education that would ensure every child is prepared to compete in a rapidly changing economy. Senator Bennet also previously served as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor, now Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper ’74, where he helped balance a historic budget deficit and make city government more responsive to Denver residents. After graduating from Wesleyan, Bennet earned a law degree from Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.

In his Commencement Address, Bennet described his experiences with two critical institutions—the U.S. education system and political system—that are overdue for “disruptive, transformative change, and reinvention.”

“You generation has so many more opportunities to lead, to make change, than the Class of 1987 ever did. So many more means to uproot entrenched interests… to discard worn-out assumptions… to overcome obstacles to progress,” he told the graduates. He urged them to channel their “Wesleyan impatience […] with the silliness and downright cruelties of the status quo” to address such pressing issues as energy, education, poverty and inequality in America.

Happy graduates.

“…some period of public service—teaching might be a good idea—is the debt you owe our country for the privilege of attending this remarkable university,” Bennet said.

Honorary degrees also were conferred upon Glenn Ligon ’82—an artist known for his series of text-based paintings, which draw on the writings and speech of individuals such as Jean Genet, Zora Neale Hurston, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin and Richard Pryor—and Cecile Richards P’13, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

At the ceremony, two individuals were presented with the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal: Bruce C. Corwin ’62, chairman and CEO of Metropolitan Theatres Corporation, and William “Bill” Wasch ’52, P ’84, formerly Wesleyan’s director of development and director of alumni programs, and founder of a consulting firm that specializes in customized housing options and personalized services for older adults. The Baldwin Medal, named for the late Judge Raymond E. Baldwin ’16, is the highest honor Wesleyan’s alumni body presents for extraordinary service to the school, or for careers and other activities which have contributed significantly to the public good.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth, second from left, congratulates Binswanger Prize recipients, from left, Richard Adelstein, Nathanael Greene and Tula Telfair.

In addition, the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics Richard Adelstein, Professor of History Nathanael Greene, and Professor of Art Tula Telfair. Also recognized at the ceremony were retiring faculty members John Biddiscombe, director of athletics; Joseph Bruno, professor of chemistry; Howard Needler, professor of letters; and Wallace “Pete” Pringle, professor of chemistry.

In his remarks, Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth pointed to a number of remarkable accomplishments by Wesleyan students—both in the classroom and out in the world. “We want you to remember the pleasure of the camaraderie and openness that have characterized the Wesleyan community to which you will always belong. We want you to remember these pleasures, the feelings of freedom and accomplishment, because we believe that these will stimulate you to continue to be bold, to be rigorous, and to nurture your practical idealism,” he said. “This may not be as easy as you imagine. From all around you will come calls for a practicality that is not so idealistic—calls to be more serious, more attentive to ‘the real world.’ Make no mistake: these are really calls for conformity, demands for conventional thinking that, if heeded, will impoverish your, and our, economic, cultural and personal lives.”

Yet Roth said he has faith that the graduates will “gratefully acknowledge those who have sacrificed to nurture you, to guide you, and to protect your freedoms. I trust you will act to reduce violence in the world around us, especially those forms of violence that target the most vulnerable. I trust that you will practice forms of thinking that create opportunity rather than defend inequality and privilege. I trust you will resist the temptations of conformity even as you reject puerile and narcissistic displays of separateness. I have this trust because I have seen what you can do.”

Kennedy Odede '12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome.

In his Senior Class Welcome, Kennedy Odede ’12 described his journey from growing up very poor in Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, to Wesleyan. He recalled his puzzlement early on over things other students take for granted: how to work a printer or use a shower, how money could be stored on a little piece of plastic known as a “Wes Card.” He used to sprint from class to the dining hall to ensure he would get something to eat before the food ran out. One day, a classmate explained to him that his concern was unfounded; food would be available until the lunch period was over.

“What struck me most about the class of 2012 was the kindness exhibited in explanations like this. Never before in my life had I felt valued. I always felt that growing up poor was something to be ashamed of, and at first I was scared to talk about my past. But then the class of 2012 showed me this kindness on many occasions,” Odede reflected. “I had arrived at an incredible place.”

Since his start at Wesleyan, Odede founded the nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities with Jessica Posner ’09, and built the tuition-free Kibera School for Girls.

“I believe we will only live in a better world if we are willing to take risks to make it a reality, only if we are willing to say, ‘Yes.’ My fellow graduates, I hope that we continue to say ‘Yes’ today, tomorrow and throughout our lives.”

The text of President Michael S. Roth’s address to the Class of 2012 graduates can be found here.

The text of the senior class welcome by Kennedy Odede ’12 can be found here.

The text of Senator Michael Bennet’s address can be found here.

Information on the Binswanger recipients can be found here.

Information on the Honorary Degree Recipients can be found here.

Information on the Baldwin recipients can be found here.

The entire Commencement 2012 photo gallery is online here and videos of the 180th Commencement Ceremony are online here.

The weekend also saw more than a thousand alumni converge on campus for Reunion. They were kept busy with more than 150 events, including such highlights as an Eclectic party featuring The Rooks; an all-college picnic and festival on Foss Hill; a 50th Reunion and President’s Reception for the Class of 1962; the traditional All-College Sing; and an Andrus Field Tent party featuring Kinky Spigot and the Welders. A number of WESeminars also provided alumni with opportunities to revisit Wesleyan’s excellent academic experience with presentations by scholars, pundits and other experts. Topics included mindfulness-based stress reduction; a sampling of Wesleyan alumnae performance artists; music and literature of the ‘60s; the Beman Triangle Archaeology Project; money, marketing and the media; the environment; highlights of the Israeli Film Festival, and much more.

Seth Davis ’72 of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., who is secretary of his class, attended his 40th reunion this year.

“One of my best friends from my college days was attending his first reunion,” Davis said. “ ‘Are they always this good?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘they are.’”

The entire Reunion 2012 photo gallery is online here.

The parent paparazzi and graduates.

Kennedy Odede '12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome.

Michael McAlear, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, served as Marshal of the Faculty. At right is Kennedy Odede '12.

Ellen Jewett '81, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, delivered the Board of Trustees Welcome.

The hat toss.

The Class of 2012.

The Class of 2012 parades onto Andrus Field from Foss Hill.

Wesleyan faculty members Wai Ku Chan, professor of mathematics, and Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy.

Congratulations Class of 2012!

Odede ’12: From an African Slum to a Wesleyan Graduate

Kennedy Odede '12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome during the 180th Commencement Ceremony on May 27. (Photo by Nick Lacy)

Kennedy Odede ’12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome during the 180th Commencement Ceremony May 27:

Today, I stand before you as the first person from Africa’s largest slum to graduate from an American university.
For most of my life, I never imagined that one day I would be standing here.
For me, Wesleyan is HOPE.

You, the class of 2012, and my time at Wesleyan have changed me forever.

I grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, where more than a million people live in an area the size of Central Park—without sewage systems, roads, running water, or access to basic rights like health care and education.

I was the oldest of eight children in a family that could not afford food, much less school fees. In Kibera, I dreamed of many things: food to eat, clean water to drink, safety from the violence, and relief from oppression that surrounded me.

Today, I want to tell you three stories about hope.

Class of 1962 Celebrates 50th Reunion

Members of the Class of 1962 and guests celebrated their 50th Reunion during Reunion & Commencement Weekend May 24-27.

During the reunion, Hank Sprouse ’62 presented a cardinal carving to Wesleyan on behalf of his class. The carving will be permanently displayed in Daniel Family Commons. Sprouse and Bruce Corwin ’62 also led a discussion on “Reinventing Ourselves As We Move Along” followed by a class discussion. In addition, the Class of 1962 dedicated the Highwaymen Common Room, located in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department. Photos of the 50th Class Reunion are below:

West African Drummers, Dancers Perform on CFA Green

Wesleyan’s West African Drumming and Dance performers.

Wesleyan’s annual West African Drumming and Dance concert, which took place on the Center for the Arts Green, was recently featured by the Middletown Patch.

The article, published on May 15, notes: “The exhilarating performance featured the work of Ghanian choreographer Iddi Saaka, Wesleyan world dance artist-in-residence; and master drummer Abraham Adzenyah, whose energetic and spirited students gave a sampling of what they’ve learned in West African dance courses this semester, accompanied by guest artists and drummers. ”

Read the article and see the video of the performance here.