Olivia Drake

Students Catalog Wesleyan’s Lost Fossil Collections

Research fellows Sajirat “Bright” Palakarn ’20 and graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 are discovering and cataloging thousands of fossils at Exley Science Center. The fossils were once housed at the former Wesleyan Museum, a natural history museum that occupied part of the Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences from 1871-1957. Once the museum closed, the fossils and other objects were displaced at various locations on campus. “We’d love to make these fossils accessible to Wesleyan students, faculty, classes and the general public,” McKee said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Research fellows Sajirat “Bright” Palakarn ’20 and graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 are discovering and cataloging thousands of fossils at Exley Science Center. The fossils were once housed at the former Wesleyan Museum, a natural history museum that occupied part of the Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences from 1871-1957. Once the museum closed, the fossils and other objects were displaced at various locations on campus. “We’d love to make these fossils accessible to Wesleyan students, faculty, classes and the general public,” McKee said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Scattered throughout campus are remnants of not only Wesleyan’s history, but world history. After the closing of the Wesleyan Museum in 1957, thousands of specimens in many collections were displaced, often haphazardly, to nooks, crannies, tunnels, attics, storage rooms, and random cabinets at Exley Science Center, Judd Hall, and the Butterfield and Foss Hill residence complexes.

A fossilized bee was discovered in the fossil collections.

A fossilized bee was discovered in the fossil collections.

Many of these specimens haven’t been accessed in 60 years.

“Sadly, few people are aware that Wesleyan has these unique resources,” said Ellen Thomas, the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and research professor of earth and environmental sciences. “The collections have not been well curated, and not much used in education and outreach. We are discovering beautiful fossils, but the knowledge that they are at Wesleyan has long been lost.”

This summer, Thomas, along with two student research fellows, began the painstaking process of not only locating and organizing collections, but digitally cataloging their finds.

Sajirat Palakarn ’20 and earth and environmental science graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 work 40 hours a week on the project and have created a “fossil assembly line” in Exley Room 309. The students take turns sorting trays of fossils by class and phylum, and then match the fossils with identifying hand-written cards or books from an archaic card catalog, entering the information, piece by piece, into a spreadsheet. They’re expecting to itemize more than 15,000 fossils this summer.

“Look here,” Thomas says, while opening a wooden cabinet at random in Exley’s specimen storage room. “We’ve got shells, fossils of shells, one after another with no labels. They are all disorganized. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make these accessible to the students?”

Melissa McKee holds a plant fossil from Greenland, collected during the second relief expedition for a Peary Arctic Expedition. The leaves were then thought be by Miocene (~20 millions years old), but now they've been identified as being much older at ~ 60 million years.

Melissa McKee holds a plant fossil from Greenland, collected during the second relief expedition for a Peary Arctic Expedition. The leaves were then thought be by Miocene (~20 millions years old), but now they’ve been identified as being much older at ~ 60 million years.

So far, the students have discovered dozens of fish fossils from the Jurassic Period (99.6 to 145.5 million years ago) and Triassic Period (251 million and 199 million years ago). They’ve encountered fossils of preserved leaves and insects from what is today Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, dating back to the Eocene Period, when the world was much warmer (40-45 million years ago). They’ve also found fossilized plants from coal deposits in Illinois (about 300 million years old), as well as fossil sea lilies (crinoids), which lived in shallow warm seas in what is now Indiana. Many of these fossils were collected by S. Ward Loper, who was curator of the Wesleyan Museum from 1894 to his death in 1910.

They’ve even discovered a plant fossil from Greenland, donated to the Wesleyan Museum in 1895 by A.N. Varse, who was on the second relief expedition attempting to assist Robert Peary on one of his early expeditions to explore Greenland and reach the North Pole.

“It’s really incredible to hold a piece of history like this in our hands,” McKee said. “Not only can fossils tell us what an organism might have looked like and how it lived, but fossils also give us clues about ancient environmental conditions. We can use fossils to understand how the Earth has changed over time.”

While most of the fossil finds are located in locked drawers in the hallways of Exley Science Center, the students also are cataloging fossils in the Joe Webb Peoples Fossil Collection, located on the fourth floor. The museum is named after the late Professor Joe Webb Peoples, who was chair of the Department of Geology from 1935 until his retirement in 1975.

The students not only catalog the artifacts, but they also write about their finds, and the museum, on a blog and on Twitter.

McKee and Palakarn, a College of Social Studies major, are constantly learning on the job. “I don’t have a science background, but here I am learning about unicellular microorganisms, sponges, coral, arthropods, trilobites and sea urchins,” Palakarn said.

“I know by the end of this summer you’re going to change your major to earth and environmental science,” McKee said. “I’m sure of it.”

Sanjirat "Bright" Palakarn '20; Ellen Thomas; and graduate student Melissa McKee '17 hold fish fossils inside the Joe Peoples' Museum in Exley.

Sajirat “Bright” Palakarn ’20; Research Professor Ellen Thomas; and graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 hold fish fossils inside the Joe Webb Peoples’ Fossil Collection in Exley.

While rummaging through drawers in Exley's Specimen Storage room, Ellen Thomas discovered large collections of old coins including miniature intaglios and ancient Chinese coins collected by the Methodist missionaries who started Wesleyan. The coins are documented in an accompanying booklet.

While rummaging through drawers in Exley’s Specimen Storage room, Ellen Thomas discovered large collections of old coins including miniature intaglios and ancient Chinese coins collected by the Methodist missionaries who started Wesleyan. The coins are documented in an accompanying booklet.

Melissa McKee holds polished halves of a Perisphinctes species found in Madagascar.

Melissa McKee holds polished halves of a cephalopod found in Madagascar. This species lived during the late Jurassic Period.

Sanjirat Palakarn '20 displays a fossil of Diplomystus dentatus from the Eocene Period. The fossil was discovered in what is now Wyoming. Diplomystus is an extinct freshwater fish distantly related to herrings and sardines.

Sajirat Palakarn displays a fossil of Diplomystus dentatus from the Eocene Period. The fossil was discovered in what is now Wyoming. Diplomystus is an extinct freshwater fish distantly related to herrings and sardines.

The students transcribe hand-written records into electronic form. Pictured is the record of A.N. Varse's fossil discovery in 1895.

The students transcribe hand-written records into electronic form. Pictured is the record of A.N. Varse’s fossil discovery in 1894. It was donated to Wesleyan in 1895.

The research team also found dozens of coral samples stashed away above these cabinets in Exley Science Center.

The research team also found dozens of coral samples stashed above these cabinets in Exley Science Center. “Some of these are now extinct. We will want to catalog these too, but this will be a project for another time,” Thomas said.

Slobin’s Afghanistan Music Recordings, Field Notes Archived Online

Mark Slobin

Mark Slobin

Between 1967-1972, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin was one of only four Western ethnomusicologists who managed to complete research in Afghanistan before the subsequent Soviet invasion, civil war, and anti-music Taliban regime.

During these five years, Slobin, who retired from Wesleyan 2016 as the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, completed a comprehensive documentation of music, culture, language and society in the Afghan North. Given the region’s volatile unrest, no further musical—and by extension cultural—studies have been undertaken since.

Slobin’s rare survey of this time period is now available online through Alexander Street, a producer of online educational resources. “The Mark Slobin Fieldwork Archive, Music in the Afghan North, 1967-1972” draws on materials deposited at Wesleyan’s World Music Archives, directed by Alec McLane. McLane brought Slobin’s work to the attention of Alexander Street. The site packages all of Slobin’s materials: the sound files of folk music recordings, films, hundreds of images and field notes. 

McClain-Frederick ’20, Bekele ’19 Excel at Korean Language Speech Contest

Madison McClain-Frederick '20, pictured third from left, and Bethlehem "Betty" Bekele, pictured fourth from left, won prizes at the Five College Korean Language Speech Contest.

Madison McClain-Frederick ’20, pictured third from left, and Bethlehem “Betty” Bekele, pictured fourth from left, won prizes at the Five College Korean Language Speech Contest.

Two Wesleyan students received top prizes in the Five College Korean Language Speech Contest held April 14 at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This was Wesleyan’s second year participating in the contest.

The recipients include Madison McClain-Frederick ’20, who took first prize for the beginning level with her speech titled “My Red Sneakers,” and Bethlehem “Betty” Bekele ’19, who took second place at the intermediate level with her speech titled “My Country Ethiopia and Korea.” Bekele is supported through a Center for East Asian Studies language study grant to spend this summer studying language in Korea.

The contest is sponsored by the Five College East Asian Language Program and is open to any college student in New England who is currently enrolled in Korean language classes. Contestants cannot be native Korean speakers nor heritage learners. Participating students must write their own short speeches in Korean.

Hyejoo Back, assistant professor of the practice of East Asian studies, served as the team’s advisor. “My students worked very hard to prepare for the contest,” Back said. “We’re very proud of them.”

Read about the 2016 award recipients in this article.

Farmers’ Market Opens at Long Lane Farm

Students tending Wesleyan's Long Lane Farm are now selling their produce at a weekly farmers' market.

Students tending Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm are now selling their produce at a weekly farmers’ market. Long Lane Farm was founded in 2003 by a group of students seeking to provide a practical solution to local hunger problems and build a strong connection with the Wesleyan and Middletown communities. Seven student summer interns currently run the farm.

Students tending Wesleyan's Long Lane Farm are now selling their produce at a weekly farmers' market. From 3 to 5 p.m. every Tuesday, members of the Wesleyan community can purchase freshly harvested vegetables and other garden goodies at the farm located at 243 Long Lane.

From 3 to 5 p.m. every Tuesday, members of the Wesleyan community can purchase freshly harvested vegetables and other garden goodies at the farm, located at 243 Long Lane. Pictured are turnips for sale at the June 20 market.

Biology Team Samples Drought-Tolerant Bacteria in Death Valley

Nicole DelGaudio ’18 samples the rhizospheres of a juniper tree at about 7,000 feet above sea level.

Nicole DelGaudio ’18 samples the rhizosphere of a juniper tree.

This spring, a research team from Wesleyan traveled to Death Valley National Park to explore the ways bacteria diversifies in extreme environments.

Death Valley, located about 130 miles west of Las Vegas, is a below-sea-level basin known for being the hottest place on earth and driest place in North America. The average rainfall is less than 2 inches, annually.

“National parks are ideal for research, in general, because the land is protected indefinitely from commercial development,” said team leader Fred Cohan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies. “Death Valley is a nice model system for exobiology because of its extreme habitat.”

Cohan, along with graduate student Jerry Lee, Bella Wiener ’19 and Nicole DelGaudio ’18, traveled to California May 29 through June 4. During this time, the researchers trekked through miles of parched — and often prickly — landscapes seeking to sample root soil, or rhizosphere, from various plant species, each over a wide range of elevations that differ notably in their temperatures.

5 Faculty Appointed to Endowed Professorships

In recognition of their career achievements, the following faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1:

Joe Knee, professor of chemistry and dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, is receiving the Beach Professorship of Chemistry, established in 1880.

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, is receiving the Alan M. Dachs Professorship of Science, established in 2011.

Stewart Novick, professor of chemistry, is receiving the Joshua Boger University Professorship of the Sciences and Mathematics, established in 2010.

Christopher Parslow, professor of classical studies, is receiving the Robert Rich Professorship of Latin, established in 1863.

Irina Russu, professor of chemistry, is receiving the E. B. Nye Professorship of Chemistry, established in 1908.

Brief biographies appear below:

Wesleyan Earns Silver Rating for 2016 Sustainability Performance

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (STARS) recently awarded Wesleyan with a Silver rating for its 2016 sustainability performance.

Wesleyan completed its first STARS report in 2013 and earned a Silver rating with a score of 53.06. Over the past three years, Wesleyan developed a Sustainability Action Plan to address many of the areas of improvement found in the 2013 report, and has increased its score to 58.11. Sixty-five points are needed to obtain the Gold rating, and 85 points are needed to obtain the Platinum rating.

Wesleyan’s commitment to sustainability began in the 1980s with the creation of a recycling program. This commitment expanded over the years, explained Sustainability Director Jen Kleindienst, to include addressing climate change, waste diversion, energy reduction, water conservation, integrating sustainability into the curriculum, promoting sustainability in co-curricular activities, and changing purchasing, building construction and grounds practices.

“Wesleyan began tracking its carbon footprint in 2007 and we’re continuously working to make significant progress toward a more sustainable future and meet our 2050 carbon neutrality target,” Kleindienst said.

Established, New Writers Attend 61st Annual Writers Conference

Journalist and author Lis Harris works one-on-one with a Wesleyan Writers Conference participant on June 15.

Journalist and author Lis Harris works one-on-one with a Wesleyan Writers Conference participant on June 15.

Writing at Wesleyan welcomed established writers, new writers and others interested in the writer’s craft to the 61st Annual Wesleyan Writers Conference, held June 14-17 on campus.

Dr. Joe Fins '82 spoke on "Writing about Science and Medicine."

Dr. Joe Fins ’82 spoke on “Writing about Science and Medicine.”

Participants had the opportunity to finish work in progress, start something new or be inspired by other writers’ work. The conference included seminars, lectures, readings, workshops, and manuscript consultations. Topics included novel, short story, poetry, nonfiction, young adult fiction, shaping narratives, literacy life in the digital age, writing about science and medicine, literary journalism and memoir, editing and translation and navigating publishing options.

Faculty included Amy Bloom ’75, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan, Joseph Fins ’82, Lis Harris, Salvatore Scibona, Sarah Moon, Honor Moore, Rivka Galchen, Kate Lee, Isaac Fitzgerald, Steve Almond, Nadxieli Nieto, Rob Spillman, Toni Robino, Elissa Schappell and Lisa Weinert. The annual event is coordinated by Director Anne Greene, the University Professor of English.

Photos of the conference are below:

C-CERT Members Take Annual Oath, Prepare Supplies

Members of the Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT) gathered in Woodhead Lounge on June 8 to regroup, stock supplies and participate in an annual oath ceremony. Formed in September 2009, Wesleyan’s C-CERT members are trained to assist first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize volunteers at a disaster site and improve the safety of the Wesleyan community. Members participate in an initial 20-hour training session and additional training opportunities are provided during the academic year.

Members of the Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT) gathered in Woodhead Lounge on June 8 to regroup, stock backpack supplies and participate in an annual oath ceremony. Formed in September 2009, Wesleyan’s C-CERT members are trained to assist first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, organize volunteers at a disaster site and improve the safety of the Wesleyan community. Members participate in an initial 20-hour training session and additional training opportunities are provided during the academic year. All Wesleyan faculty and staff are welcome to join C-CERT.

Faculty, Staff Mingle, Play Games at Ice Cream Social

On June 12, the Office of Human Resources hosted the third annual Faculty and Staff Ice Cream Social on Andrus Field and the Huss Courtyard.

“This event provides us with the opportunity to enjoy a fun afternoon with colleagues and a way for all of us to kick off the summer months,” said Julia Hicks, chief human resources officer.

In addition to ice cream and sorbet, Wesleyan employees enjoyed popcorn and pretzel snacks, live entertainment with DJ Mario Torres (also a material handler in Physical Plant), raffle prizes, a tie dye t-shirt station, bingo, water balloon toss, volleyball, a block-stacking game, bean bag toss, dancing and more. Employees were encouraged to wear their tie dye t-shirts to work on June 16.

Photos of the event are below: (Event photos by Olivia Drake and aerial photo by John Wareham)

Fries Center for Global Studies Dedicated

Provost Joyce Jacobsen, Michael Fries '85, Wesleyan President Michael Roth '78 and Professor Antonio Gonzalez participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 25 at the Fries Center for Global Studies. 

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Joyce Jacobsen, Board of Trustees member Michael Fries ’85, Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78, and Antonio Gonzalez, director of the Fries Center for Global Studies and professor of Spanish studies, participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 25 at the Fries Center for Global Studies.

Faculty, staff, students and alumni recently gathered for the dedication of the Fries Center for Global Studies.

The center, housed in Fisk Hall, includes the Office of Study Abroad; Fellowships, Internships and Exchanges; Language Resources and Technology; and Language and Intercultural Learning. The center was dedicated in recognition of the generosity of Board of Trustees member Michael Fries ’85, vice chairman and CEO of Liberty Global, and is committed to helping all members of the Wesleyan community achieve the knowledge, language skills, and sensitivity to exercise effective and responsible citizenship in an increasingly inter-dependent world.

“Our emphasis on intercultural communication, experience and knowledge reflects the value Wesleyan places on adaptability, compassion and cultural self-awareness with respect to the world beyond our borders,” said Antonio Gonzalez, director of the Fries Center for Global Studies, professor of Spanish studies. “These qualities and practices put Wesleyan’s liberal arts program at the forefront of global education and are the hallmark of responsible global citizenship.”

The center includes a large commons area, which can be used as a venue for special events. The area offers large displays for presentations or watching international events. Ample space is provided for students to study and convene in the commons area and in the Language Resources and Technology (LRT) area, which is located across the hall. The LRT area is a multipurpose space that provides flexible seating and is equipped with desktop computers and laptops to accommodate the needs of an entire class. The LRT space is staffed with student attendants and can be used as for teaching, testing, to conduct workshops and as a study space. The center also includes a multimedia classroom with telepresence equipment, which allows for easy collaboration with other schools in the U.S. and abroad. The center’s audio visual workroom enhances the center’s production capabilities with a recording studio, a digital editing workstation and a video production studio.

Photos of the dedication ceremony and the Fries Center for Global Studies are below. (Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19 and Olivia Drake.)