Olivia Drake

Psychology Department Welcomes New Assistant Professor


Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, studies cognitive development.
 
Posted 10/18/05
Hilary Barth has joined the Psychology Department as an assistant professor.

Barth received her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College in psychology, concentrating in neural and behavioral sciences in 1996. She received her Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in cognitive neuroscience in 2002. Her research involved behavioral and brain imaging studies of numerical cognition – the study of how humans think about numbers and quantities.

She currently studies cognitive development, specifically the development of number and quantity understanding.

“Even before they receive formal math training in school, young children have some impressive quantitative abilities,” Barth explains. “In fact, even babies and nonhuman animals have a rough sort of quantitative understanding. For example, they both can discriminate between two sets of objects based on number.”

Barth examines adults’ and children’s performance in lab-based experiments to investigate what humans can do with these basic abilities, how they develop throughout life, and how they may serve as building blocks to more sophisticated math learning.

Barth teaches Sensation and Perception this fall and will teach developmental psychology and a seminar in cognitive neuroscience in spring. In the future, she would like to teach a specialized cognitive development seminar.

Barth is the lead author on two publications this year. They are “Abstract number and arithmetic in preschool children,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2005 and “Non-symbolic arithmetic in adults and young children,” which is in press in Cognition.

Before coming to Wesleyan, Barth worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Lab for Developmental Studies at Harvard University since graduating from MIT. She also taught as a visiting professor at Wellesley College.

Coming to Wesleyan was a perfect fit for her interests, she says.

“I wanted to work at a school that combined the best of both worlds of a small college and larger university, and I think Wesleyan is one of the few places that can honestly say it does have a liberal arts atmosphere and a serious research emphasis.”

Barth lives in Middletown with her husband. She enjoys hiking, biking, gardening, skiing and cooking.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

World Ecosystems, Energy Policy Discussed at Symposium


Professor Dianna Wall of Colorado State University speaks with Lori Gruen, associate professor of philosophy and co-chair and associate professor of feminism, gender and sexuality studies during the 2005 Robert Schumann Environmental Studies Symposium held Oct. 8.

Below, Professor Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and director of the Environmental Studies Certificate program speaks with the symposium’s attendees. Chernoff organized the day-long symposium.

Posted 10/18/05
“Where on Earth are We Going? II” was the topic of the 2005 Robert Schumann Environmental Studies Symposium held Oct. 8. in Exley Science Center. More than 100 people from across the country attended the event.

The discussion explored issues on global warming and climate change; world ecosystems in peril; energy policy; regional initiatives; ethics, environmental issues and the poor; and earth charter principles.

Panelists included Lori Gruen, associate professor of philosophy and co-chair and associate professor of feminism, gender and sexuality studies; Gary Yohe, the John E. Andrus Professor of Economics; James Hansen of NASA; Richard Morgenstern of Resources for the Future; Roger Smith ’01, coordinator of the Connecticut Climate Coalition; Diana Wall of Colorado State University; and Timothy Weiskel of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. William Blakemore of ABC News was symposium’s moderator.

The event was organized by Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and director of the Environmental Studies Certificate program.

Gruen, one of the featured presenters, spoke on “Ethical Issues: Environmental Justice and the Poor.” In her presentation, Gruen explained that the poor are disproportionately burdened by environmental problems such as extreme climate events, exposure to toxics in our environments and the wider context of global warming. She used Hurricane Katrina as an example.

“Aiding those who are exposed to toxics or those who suffered worse from the recent hurricanes along the Gulf Coast is a matter of justice, not charity, given the systemic structure of racism and injustice in the U.S.,” she said. “Ignoring the unequal position that individuals and/or communities and/or nations are situated in will hinder cooperative environmental protection efforts.”

“Where on Earth are We Going?” was held Sept. 11, 2004. Highlights of that event included identifying the ‘smoking gun’ of global warming in Artic climate changes, exploration of options for environmentally benign sources of energy, and human values, attitudes and behavior that influence the future of humanity.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Long Lane Farming Club Hosts Pumpkin Fest


Long Lane Farming Club member Rachel Ostlund ’08 will welcome the community to the club’s annual Pumpkin Fest Oct. 29. At left, a flower garden still blooms at the farm, located south of Physical Plant and Wesleyan University Press.
Posted 10/18/05
Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farming Club will hold its second annual Pumpkin Fest from 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday Oct. 29 and people from the campus and the local community are welcome to attend. But while the freshly-grown pumpkins available the fest will be locally-grown, they won’t be a product of the students’ land.

“We had some problems this year with our primitive watering system and squash beetles,” says Long Lane Farm Club member Rachel Ostlund ’08, an earth and environmental sciences major. “Sometimes you have a good crop, sometimes not. It is all part of learning how to farm.”

These problems left the student-farmers with less than two dozen pumpkins. But the fest had to go on, so the students carved-out a deal with a local orchard, which will deliver 300 pumpkins for the festival.

The Middletown community is welcome to attend the fest. Attendees can participate in pumpkin carving, face painting, a Halloween costume contest, bobbing for apples, as well as learn about agriculture. The farm is located on the corner of Long Lane and Wadsworth Street, south of Physical Plant and Wesleyan University Press.

Student and faculty bands will provide entertainment.

Pumpkins are among 80 varieties of vegetables and herbs grown in the two-year-old organic garden. In 2004, Rachel Lindsay ’05 planted the first crops in a circular-shaped 50-ft-wide plot. Local residents rounded out the corners with garlic and potato gardens, among several flower beds. A few flower species are still blooming this month in the farm yard.

Lindsay, Ostlund and other Wesleyan students later planted a tomato and broccoli garden, among rows of Swiss chard, pumpkins and squash. Much of the one-acre plot of old farmland was hand-tilled by the students.

Long Lane Farm, Ostlund explains, was created so students would have a place to come together and learn about food security issues. It’s used as an educational tool and will be adapted to meet the requests of the community.

This summer, the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, the Rockfall Foundation and area shareholders paid for Lindsay and Ostlund to work full-time at the farm. Students from local high schools helped out four days a week and dozens of community members volunteered. The projects they undertook included the installation of an underground woodchuck fence and an above ground deer and critter fence.

The garden flourished, producing more vegetables than the student workers and the garden’s shareholders could consume. They sold some produce to local restaurants and grocers, and donated other crops to a local soup kitchen. Any left-overs are tossed into the farm’s chicken coop.

“Those chickens will eat just about anything,” Ostlund says, peering into student-maintained coop that houses a dozen hens. “Nothing goes to waste.”

Ostlund, of Ithaca, N.Y., says she’s never tended a garden before, but grew a green thumb after working in an organic farm with AmeriCorps. She also seeks advice from local residents who volunteer at the farm. The garden’s guests have donated compost, manure, mulch and two greenhouses, which will be useful this winter. For the last two years, the students started plants in their dorm rooms and planted the seedlings into the garden when the weather conditions allowed.

Several Wesleyan staff and faculty also work at the farm. Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology, got involved in the Long Lane Farm as a way to help sustain the environment and human health.

“The students are cultivating not only the land, but a deep relationship with nature,” Singer says. “In addition, building and running the farm requires that the students work cooperatively, understand the details of food production, and make difficult and consequential decisions. In essence, it is a chance for these students to test and live up to their ideals, a tremendously valuable experience.”
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Building Houses and Dreams: Wesleyan Participates in Habitat for Humanity


Habitat for Humanity recipient Titeana McNeil, 11, plays with a caulk gun while Habitat volunteers Ted Paquette and Manny Cunard, site supervisor and director of Auxiliary Operations and Campus Services work on the family’s new kitchen. Below, mother Jennifer McNeil and her children, Jamarea, 3; Tyquan, 14; Titeana, 11; and Taquana, 15 stop by their future home to check the progress on Oct. 13. (Photos by Olivia Drake)
Posted 10/18/05

Jennifer McNeil had no idea that watching television would one day help her own a home. But, thanks to that and a partnership between Wesleyan University and Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity, Inc. (NMHFH) – a local affiliate for Habitat for Humanity International – McNeil, a single mother of five, is a first time homeowner.

In McNeil’s mind, home ownership had always seemed like a dream. But then, one night last summer, she was watching TV when she saw a commercial for Habitat for Humanity. It got McNeil thinking, and soon after she contacted the local Habitat office. She learned how she could apply to become a homeowner. She filled out an application and in October was notified she and her family homeowners of a home on 34 Fairfield Avenue  – a home that had been donated by Wesleyan to Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity.

“I read the first sentence of the letter and started jumping up and down and running around with my kids!” shouts McNeil.

The four bedroom, light grey colonial, located along the edge of Wesleyan’s campus had been refurbished by Habit for Humanity volunteers.

McNeil admits she is pleased that their new home is near Wesleyan.

“There is always something going on,” she says. “After school programs, events, and there are very friendly people here.”

It turns out many of them are pretty good with construction tools, too.

Many of the volunteers who worked on the house were Wesleyan faculty, staff and student volunteers from Wesleyan’s Habitat for Humanity student chapter, WesShelter.

“During the past year, over 250 students, faculty and staff have given of their time and energy along with a countless number of community volunteers,” says Manny Cunard, director of auxiliary operations and campus services and site supervisor for the Wesleyan-Habitat for Humanity partnership “We have created connections with the Middletown community that will serve to enhance the important relationship between Middletown and Wesleyan.”

McNeil and her children also helped work on their house-to-be every Saturday morning. Currently, the house is receiving its finishing touches and the family is set to move in before Thanksgiving.

“I’m having a lot of my family here for Thanksgiving,” says McNeil. “I want to cook five turkeys in my new kitchen! I never thought anything like this could happen to me in a million years.”

McNeil, a department manager at Wal-Mart in Wallingford who grew up in the Long River Village Projects in Middletown, is looking forward to improving her family life by owning her own home. She and her children, ages 18, 15, 14, 11 and 3 have been living at her sister’s Middletown home for the past two years.

“This is definitely going to bring my kids and I closer, just knowing that we now own a home.

On Sunday, Nov. 13 Wesleyan University and NMHFH will host a welcoming and celebratory event for the McNeil family at 34 Fairview Avenue in Middletown.

Recently, Wesleyan donated a second house at 15 Hubert Street to Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity. A groundbreaking is set for Hubert Street later this fall and applications to select a family are currently under review.

In June, 2006, Wesleyan expects to participate in a national Habitat “blitz-build,” in which an entire house is erected and made livable in seven days. This house will be one of 1,000 built simultaneously around the country.

By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations

Economics Department, Latin American Studies Welcomes New Assistant Professor


Francisco Rodriguez, assistant professor of economics and Latin American Studies is still getting settled into his new office. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)
 
Posted 10/01/05

Francisco Rodriguez has joined the Economics Department and Latin American Studies Department as an assistant professor.

He accepted the position because of the “intellectual freedom and environment of a liberal arts institution, as well as the high quality and openness of both the Economics and Latin American Studies departments,” he says.

Rodriguez’s research examines economic growth in developing countries and the interaction between inequality, distributive conflict and economic performance.

He’ll be teaching classes on international trade, economics of Latin America and economic and societal collapses.

Rodriguez received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, Venezuela and his master’s in economics from Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D from Harvard with a thesis titled “Essays on the Political Economy of Redistribution and Growth.”

Rodriguez most recently completed a visiting fellowship at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Between 2000 and 2004, Rodriguez was the chief economist of the Venezuelan National Assembly. Before that, he had worked as an assistant professor in the Economics Department of the University of Maryland, College Park.

Rodriguez is the co-author of “The Political Economy of Investment in Human Capital,” which is forthcoming in the Economics of Governance and “Inequality, Redistribution and Rent-Seeking,” published in Economics and Politics, November 2004.

His wife, María Eugenia, is a Ph.D candidate in marketing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has a step-daughter, Celeste, 12, and a Siamese cat named Shalimar.

Rodriguez’s interests include reading narrative literature. Among his favorite authors are Gunter Grass of Germany, Alejo Carpentier of Cuba, Alberto Fuguet of Chile and Gao Xingjian of China.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Director of Physical Plant Responsible for Building Trades, Utilities, Facilities, Grounds


Cliff Ashton, director of Physical Plant, oversees 75 full-time employees and 50 contract employees from the department’s new home on Long Lane.
 
Posted 10/01/05
Q: Cliff, when did you become the new director of Physical Plant and what do you think of it so far?

A: I came to Wesleyan in the middle of June 2005. The people here have been so nice and helpful getting me acclimated to the place. I look forward to a long career here.

Q: What are your responsibilities?

A: I’m responsible for overall operations and maintenance of the “physical plant” in other words most of the universities’ buildings including the central power plant but excluding rental properties, and the grounds and landscaping. We manage the contractors who mow the lawns in the warm weather and move the snow and spread the sand when it gets cold. Management of our utility consumption and related energy conservation initiatives are also within my scope of responsibility. To do this work, we have facility managers who monitor condition of our buildings, coordinate repair and improvement projects, and serve as our liaison with building users. We have a staff of skilled tradespersons and technicians who operate and monitor the various heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems and perform repairs as needed. Our operation is staffed 24×7 round the clock.

Q: How many people work in Physical Plant?

A: We have 75 full-time employees and 59 contract employees.

Q: What is the mission of Physical Plant?

A: We’re responsible for the construction, renovation, repair, maintenance and operation of all buildings and grounds. We have 370 buildings that need to be operated in a safe, environmental manner. These buildings are valuable assets so, just like your home, we try to keep them in as good a shape as possible in view of their age with the resources we have.”

Q: I imagine that can be pretty challenging.

A: The challenge is what attracted me to working here. Wesleyan has several old buildings and maintaining them can be difficult due to age, historic nature and associated restrictions, obsolete systems and availability of replacement parts.

Q: What do Wesleyan’s power bills look like?

A: Our gas, oil and electric budget is $5.6 million. Of that $2.8 million is spent on electricity alone, so conserving energy is one of our biggest priorities that we keep an eye on.

Q: If my office has a flickering fluorescent bulb, what do I do?

A: You would call our customer service office at 685-3400. We have two operators here from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. During off hours, calls are routed to the Power Plant. The operators fill out a work request and that goes into our computer system. The forepersons see the requests and assign a technician to fix the problem. We’ll get someone out there as soon as possible. If situation is not an emergency, it may take a few days to complete any repair.

Q: What are the most common reasons Wesleyan employees call Physical Plant?

A: It runs the gamut – hot, cold complaints in offices and conference rooms, plumbing repairs, lights out, broken windows, doors sticking, fire alarms. Keys are a big one. Keys break or get stuck in a lock or people lose them.

Q: Is one part of the year busier than another?

A: Right now when students and faculty return is one of the busiest. Reunion/commencement is another. Summer and break periods are very busy as those are our short windows of opportunity to get in to student residence areas to make repairs and do preventive maintenance. We are pretty busy throughout the year.

Q: What would happen if Physical Plant closed down for just one day?

A: Well, the power plant would be unattended and that would not be very safe. Repairs would not get done, an overflowing toilet would not get fixed very quickly, students who locked themselves out of their rooms would need to be let in by public safety each time.

Q: How does the new Physical Plant facility on Long Lane benefit your department?

A: Before we moved into the Cady School on Long Lane, Physical Plant was split into different locations on campus. The shop facilities were poor and not conducive to morale. By being consolidated under one roof, we can foster teamwork and employees have a sense of belonging. We can all think under one roof. The new shop facilities should help to improve our service delivery.

Q: What were you doing before you came to Wesleyan?

A: I was working at Middlesex Hospital as a director of engineering. I was managing projects, facilities, clinical engineers, the buildings, physical plant and grounds. Before that, I worked at Northeast Utilities for 18 year in various power plant facility engineering and management roles.

Q: What did you study in college?

A: I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s of business administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I’m also a registered professional engineer in the state of Connecticut.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be a handy-man?

A: Yes. I’m always fixing things around the house. My first house in New Britain was a three-family house and I worked on that quite a bit. Many years ago I worked in a machine shop.

Q: What are your hobbies or interests outside of work?

A: I enjoy sailing, snow and water skiing, and working on my model railroad. I‘ve been doing that project for about 15 years. My wife, Teri, and I have a 7-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, and I’m busy coaching my daughter’s soccer team and my son’s basketball team.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Nobel Laureate Speaks to Classes, Leads Symposium


Posted 10/01/05
First-year chemistry students will have the opportunity to spend some time with a Nobel Laureate at Wesleyan.

Sir Harry Kroto, professor of chemistry at Florida State University, will lecture to chemistry classes at 9 a.m. Oct. 31 in room 84 of Hall-Atwater. Kroto shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996 for discovering C60, a new form of carbon.

In addition, Kroto will present a chemistry symposium titled “Architecture in Nanospace,” at 4 p.m. Oct. 31, also in HA 84, or Exley Science Center 150 if attendance requires it. This symposium will be open to the public.

Formerly a professor at the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom, Sir Harry has studied carbon chains in space, was a pioneer in the spectroscopic study of molecules with multiple bonds between carbon and phosphorus, and, in his Nobel Prize winning work, discovered and new form of elemental carbon.

“I never dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize,” Kroto wrote in his Nobel-related biography. “Indeed I was very happy with my scientific work prior to the discovery of C60 … and even if I did not do anything else as significant I would have felt quite successful as a scientist.”

Stewart Novick, professor of chemistry, invited Kroto to speak at Wesleyan. They first met at Wesleyan’s annual Leermakers Symposium in 1992. Novick and David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry, are combining their CHEM 143 and CHEM 141 classes on Oct. 31 so Kroto can lecture to both introductory chemistry classes at once.

Novick considers Kroto to be a world class researcher who is deeply committed to science education.

“It is characteristic of him that, in addition to the cutting-edge research lecture he is presenting in the afternoon, he will take time in the morning to present a more generally accessible talk to some of the newest members of the scientific community, the students in our introductory courses,” Novick says. “Harry is a spellbinding speaker and we are certain that everyone will enjoy his perspectives on one of the most important and astounding chemical discoveries of the last 50 years.”

Krotto shares the Nobel with Robert Curl Jr. and Richard Smalley, both of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The trio made their discovery during a period of eleven days in 1985. When fine-tuning their experiment, they produced clusters with 60 carbon atoms or C60. This symmetrical molecular structure resembled a geodetic dome designed by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 Montreal World Exhibition. Hence, the scholars named their structure ‘buckminsterfullerene’ or ‘fullerene’, for short.

 
By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Chances Are, the Future of History Comes from Wesleyan


Posted 10/01/05
The September, 2005 issue of Perspectives, the monthly publication of the American Historical Association, included a study of history Ph.D.s earned between 1989 and 2002 and showed that the leader in the field was in fact Wesleyan University – even though Wesleyan doesn’t have a Ph.D. program in history.

Though the results may sound incongruous at first, the data is actually quite solid. The study’s author, Robert Townsend, found that a higher percentage of Wesleyan students who earned bachelor’s degrees during the surveyed period went on to earn Ph.D.s in history than undergraduates from any other institution in the United States.

Townsend’s data showed that Wesleyan students earned 607 B.A.s in history from 1987-2002. This aggregate number ranked 13th overall nationwide. However, Wesleyan students went on to earn 100 history Ph.D.s from 1989 to 2002, giving the university a rate of 16 history Ph.D.s earned for every 100 history B.A.s earned within the survey period. This rate was the highest measured and tied Wesleyan with the University of Chicago for best overall ratio. The ratio also exceeded the ratios of all other liberal arts institutions in the country, as well as those of Yale, Harvard, Brown, U.C. Berkeley and Stanford.

It should be noted that though most history Ph.D.s are earned by people who received history B.A.s, this is not always the case, a point that, when considered within the context of the study, further highlights the quality of Wesleyan’s bachelor program in general.

 
By David Pesci, director of Media Relations

Information Commons Houses Reference, Technology Support for Students


Olin Library’s new Information Commons features a library reference desk, an Information Technology Services desk and a SARN information and referral desk.
Posted 10/01/05
A new information lab in Olin Memorial Library has merged three services into one.

Information Commons provides library reference, information technology and access to the Student Academic Resources Network (SARN). The facility is located in the Campbell Reference Center on the first floor of the library.

“Students are relying on the Internet more and more to get information, but there’s still a demand for the library’s material, reference services and workspace,” says Dale Lee, information service technician and coordinator of the Information Commons. “Our coordinated services, in-person and online, make it easy to find information.”

The Commons was created by the library staff and Information Technology Services to meet the intellectual needs of students and faculty in the 21st century.

The Commons features a library reference desk, an Information Technology Services desk and a SARN information and referral desk. Each desk is staffed by a trained specialist. While the first two desks provide services familiar to most library users, SARN combines a variety of on campus resources in one area. These include Class Deans, Writing Programs, Math Workshop, Career Resource Center, Language Resource Center, Life Sciences Mentored Study Groups, Dean’s Tutoring Program, Health Professions Partnership Initiative and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program.

“We looked at different ways we can collaborate and cooperate, and now students can get reference or technological help all in one place,” Lee says.

Equipment in the Commons includes 18 multi-use computers including 15 personal computers and three Macintosh; four computers for research and Web access; and five stand-up computers for quick look-ups. Standard office programs are provided.

The computers are linked to three black and white printers, one color printer and one scanner. In addition, the space has improved wireless access. The working space arrangements were designed to facilitate group as well as individual work.

This area is only phase one of the Information Commons. Additional group study and instruction rooms will be constructed in the future and will include computer and multi-media equipment.

For more information or comments, e-mail infocommons@wesleyan.edu or contact Lee at dtlee@wesleyan.edu. Information Commons is online at http://www.wesleyan.edu/infocommons/.

 
By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Biophysics Retreat Focuses on Research, Information Exchange


At top, Mark Flory, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, lectures to a group during the Sixth Annual Biophysics Retreat for the Molecular Biophysics Program Sept. 15. At left, Maggie Chen, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Chemistry explains her research titled “Site-Resolved Dynamics and Energetics of a Ribosomal RNA” during the Fall Retreat Poster Session, part of the biophysics program.

Posted 10/01/05
The Sixth Annual Biophysics Retreat was held at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown on Sept. 15.

Organized by David Beveridge, professor of chemistry, Manju Hingorami, assistant professor of molecular biology and Ishita Mikerji, associate professor of molecular biology, the event was supported by the Edward W. Snowdon lecture fund.

The retreat was designed to bring together students and faculty in the molecular biophysics and biological chemistry programs and provide them an opportunity to discuss their current research, explore new ideas and possible collaborative work. About 60 people attended this year’s retreat.

One of the featured speakers was Mark Flory, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

A newly-appointed member of the molecular biology and biochemistry department, Flory spoke about his research which included studying the process by which cancer cells are formed in yeast. By relying on mass spectrometry, an analytical technique used to identify complex compounds, to study yeast cells, Flory hopes that he can gain further insight into why such cells become abnormal during tumors and cancer.

“We are currently looking at the systems in yeast using genetics,” Flory says. “At some point, we can then make the jump and connection to human cells.”

Other presentations by Wesleyan faculty included “Time resolved fluorescence studies of U1A protein dynamics,” presented by Joseph Knee, professor of chemistry and “Controlling the effects of stereochemistry on biological activity” by Michael Calter, associate professor of chemistry.

In addition, Wesleyan post doctorate fellow Bethany L. Kormos presented “U1A-RNA Complex Formation: Insights from Molecular Dynamics Simulations.”

Brian T. Chait, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Professor at The Rockefeller University, delivered the keynote address titled “Proteomic tools for dissecting cellular function.”

The event also featured posters by several Wesleyan students, including “Spectroscopic and Molecular Dynamics Evidence for a Sequential Mechanism for the DNA B-A Transition,” by sixth-year molecular biology and biochemistry Ph.D. candidate Kelly Knee. Knee’s research examines the transition of certain proteins on DNA, which may potentially help with drug design in the future.

Another highlight was a poster by Congju (Maggie) Chen, a sixth-year Chemistry Ph.D. candidate, which detailed her research about how a specific strand of RNA could be attacked and broken down by Ricin, a toxin that has been linked to terrorist attacks in the past.

 
By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations

Muslim Chaplain Left Engineering for Career in Life in Faith


Imam Mahan Mirza, University Muslim Chaplain leads Qur’an Study Circles, and Islam Hour and sermons with Wesleyan’s Muslim community.
 
Posted 10/01/05
Q: Mahan, when were you hired to be the new Muslim chaplain at Wesleyan?

A: I was officially hired as of August 29, 2005.

Q: Where did you grow up and when did you move to America?

A: I grew up as the son of a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force. My parents came from India into Pakistan when the country was divided in 1947. My grandparents are from various different parts of India. My first spoken language was the Queen’s English, which I picked up as a kindergartner in 1977 in England. I remember watching Star Wars on the big screen there when it first came out.

Q: Where did you attend college and what are your degrees in?

A: My first year was spent at Valparaiso University in Indiana. I then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin from where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After working for two years as a design and project engineer in building environmental control systems, I left my job and returned to Pakistan to study Arabic and the Koran. I then returned to Hartford and continued working part-time as an engineer while enrolled in a graduate program in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. In 2001, I left my engineering career behind once and for all and joined a six-year full time Ph.D program in Islamic Studies at Yale University. I am currently in my fifth year there.

Q: When and why did you decide to pursue Islamic studies?

A: Anyone who looks around sees that the world has many problems. Through my college years, I wanted to devote my life to something more meaningful than designing and running machines. I wanted to know more than the machines themselves; I wanted to know their purpose. Why do we build them? How do we use them? Who are we? Who am I? Instinctively I turned to my religion for answers to these and related questions. Here I am.

Q: Do you have any idea how many Muslim chaplains there are in academia?

A: I have no idea, but there is at least one more than there were on August 28! We need many more, not just at universities and colleges, but also in hospitals, prisons, and the military.

Q: Approximately, how many students on campus are Muslim? What countries do they come from?

A: Most Muslim students on campus are American. The international Muslim students come from a variety of counties such as Turkey, Mauritius and Indonesia. I have not met all of the Muslim students yet, but the active community consists of about 15-20 people.

Q: How has your upbringing in Pakistan and past 13 years living in America has shaped your perspective on Islam in America?

A: This is a difficult question. My first name is Indian, middle name Arabic, and last name Persian. Although I was born and raised in Pakistan, America and its language and culture have never been truly foreign. I grew up watching American TV shows such as the A-Team, Knight Rider and Threes’ Company. I study Islam from a German Jesuit at a secular University. I am a child of post-modernity. In a matter of speaking, I consciously embraced Islam as a student in America. There is no denying that my background makes my perspective unique, but more than my upbringing, I would imagine it has been shaped more by my academic training than anything else.

Q: How often are you on campus, and when you are here, what are you doing?

A: I am at Wesleyan on Mondays, Fridays, every other Thursday, and some weekends. Being a part-time employee, I do my best to arrange my schedule around the activities and needs of the Muslim students on campus. Students visit during office hours and we often dine together around our activities and meetings. On Fridays, I deliver a sermon and lead the congregational prayers in the afternoon, and conduct a study circle focusing on the Koran in the evenings. In addition to these regular appearances, I come for ad hoc events in the evenings and on weekends.

Q: Where can we get more detail about these events and times?

A: We have a Web site, www.wesleyan.edu/chaplains/muslim.

Q: How do you personally celebrate Muslim culture?

A: By being Muslim, studying Islam, keeping in touch with the Muslim community, and talking about our faith and traditions with others.

Q: I understand you’re starting up a weekly Islam Hour on campus. Tell me more about this.

A: We meet Mondays from 7 to 8 p.m. at 171 Church Street. Here, I host an hour of open discussion on topics related to Islam and Muslims called “Islam 101: Religion & Tea.” This is a tradition that is carrying over from the previous chaplain who offered a lecture series titled “Islam 101.” I have modified this venue into more of a guided discussion rather than lecture format, in which students of all levels can join in and discuss contemporary American discourses on Islam. We also offer tea over the discussion, hence the modified title.

Q: What can you tell me about the Qur’an Study Circle?

A: We meet Fridays between 6 and 7 p.m. at 22 Lawn Avenue. Here we discuss topics related to the Qur’an such as its arrangement and structure, and reflect on the meaning of selected passages. Once again, the circle is not in lecture format, but rather encourages dialogue and reflection.

Q: What are your hobbies and interests?

A: When I was in high school, I used to play lots of cricket and golf. Sadly, I no longer have time for such things. I occasionally try and play squash in the gym if I get the chance. I also have three young sons who keep me busy when I am not studying or at Wesleyan. I am also interested in the world we live in, from the environment to poverty to war. Being religious does not mean being a recluse. On the contrary, spirituality to me is a direct engagement with the world and its affairs in order to make it a better place. This not only means being good to your neighbor down the street, but also to your neighbors across the ocean. But let me not get preachy here.

Q: Tell me about your family and what you enjoy doing together.

A: My wife, Stephanie, and I live with our three sons in New Haven. We’ve been married for 10 years. Steph is in the final semester of her undergraduate studies, which she pursues part-time at Southern Connecticut State University. We enjoy playing board games, reading to the kids, and outings to parks and museums. But I think what Steph and I really look forward to every day is sitting together with a midnight snack once the kids are off to bed!
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Director of Residential Life Interested in What Students Have to Say


Fran Koerting, director of Residential Life, enjoys working with students.
 
Posted 10/01/05
After working in a variety of roles in higher-education, Fran Koerting has found her niche.

“I love working directly with the students,” says Koerting, director of Residential Life. “I want to help make their Wesleyan experience a positive one.”

Koerting spent the past eight years working as the director of Residential Life at Fairfield University. She came to Wesleyan in July.

Koerting holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology from the University of Rhode Island and a master’s in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University. The Long Island, New York native says she wanted to work at Wesleyan because of its “excellent reputation.”

“I love the caliber of students here,” she says. “Here, they are able to engage with the faculty and staff, and their input is valued.”

The Fauver Field residences and prototype homes on Fountain and Warren Streets are two examples of facilities designed with students’ input. Upcoming decisions that students will be involved in include furnishing the senior wood frame houses, additional laundry facilities and renovations to Foss Hill residences, to name a few.

Within her own department, Koerting actively seeks student input to better student life. In addition to Residential Life’s 99 student employees, she meets with individuals to address their concerns and find solutions. She serves on several committees with students, which discuss issues that affect students.

“There’s lots of living options for students here, and we try to make each one unique,” Koerting says. “And now that almost all students are living on campus, this can help them take advantage of all that’s offered in their community.”

Koerting says the residential requirement underscores Wesleyan’s emphasis on the development of students outside of as well as in the classroom. By living on campus, students learn to build community, respect others and be a responsible member.

Maria Cruz-Saco, dean of the college, says in the short time that Koerting has been with Wesleyan, she has already made a strong impact in handling residential affairs.

“Wesleyan has a diverse housing stock which brings a variety of options to students,” Cruz-Saco says. “We are designing ways to further faculty-staff-student interactions and conversations in residential halls and Fran’s experience and leadership will be key. “

Koerting manages the department’s operating budget, meets with the Physical Plant staff, deans and department heads to discuss issues. She also deals with parents, who often call in with questions and concerns.

“Residential Life benefits from a collaborative relationship with other departments,” she says. “If someone has a concern that I cannot help them with, I’ll refer them to the person who can, or often we’ll work with that department, to get the student’s problem solved.”

Maureen Isleib, associate director of Residential Life, says Koerting’s personality and energy has given the department new direction and goals.

“Fran has worked in a number of different roles in student affairs and brings a fresh perspective to the office,” Isleib says. “She also has boundless energy and enthusiasm, and her commitment to student development is evident in her interactions with students.”

The biggest challenge in Residential Life is being prepared for the unexpected, Koerting explains. This can range from transition issues to crisis management – quite possibly dealing with the death of a student.

“We deal with the lives of 2,700 students, and you never know what is going to come up,” she says. “In Residential Life, you’re always having curveballs thrown at you, and that’s what makes it so interesting.”

On her days off, Koerting spends time with her husband, Walter, and children Katrina, 16, and Stephen, 14, and her Shepard-Black Labrador mix, Kukla at their home in Shelton, Conn. When she’s not busy attending her children’s soccer games and marching band performances, Koerting enjoys sewing, crafts, reading, and teaching Sunday school.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor