Olivia Drake

A Class Act: Assistant Professor of Theater Busy Teaching, Acting, Directing Local and International Productions


Yuriy Kordonskiy, assistant professor of theater, will receive an award in April for directing the performance of The Heart of a Dog, performed at the National Theatre of Bucharest, Romania. Below, at left, is a scene from his Wesleyan production, Crime and Punishment, and at right, a scene from Sorry.
 
Posted 03/01/06
Yuriy Kordonskiy’s stage is not limited to Wesleyan. Kordonskiy is international.

Kordonskiy, is an assistant professor of theater, teaches acting and directing courses and has directed student productions such as M. Bulgakov’s A Cabal of Hypocrites, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the Thornton Wilder’s The Long Christmas Dinner in the Center for the Arts.

But Kordonskiy also directs performances and leading workshops at top international theaters. In fact, his recent production, Bulgakov’s The Heart of a Dog, performed at the National Theatre of Bucharest, Romania received three nominations for the Award of Union of Romanian Theatre including The Best Production. The ceremony will take place on April 3.

So, how does he do it?

“I just love what I do, and I want to be working every minute,” he explains.

Internationally, Kordonskiy is somewhat of a celebrity. In fact, he holds “almost rock star status” in Romania, says Jack Carr, chair of the Theater Department and professor of theater.

As a performer and director, Kordonskiy has been involved in productions in nearly two-dozen countries. He has conducted workshops in Russia, Italy, Romania, Germany and Spain. He recently directed Disappearance and House of Bernarda Alba at the Maly Drama Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia; A Diary of a Madman at the West End Theatre, Gloucester, Mass; and Uncle Vanya, Sorry and The Marriage at the Bulandra Theatre, Bucharest, Romania. Uncle Vanya received five nominations for The Union of Romanian Theatres award (the Romanian equivalent of a TONY award) and received The Best Director prize.

Kordonskiy’s productions have won other awards in Romania, and garnered awards in Russia, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Great Britain. As a performer, Kordonskiy received two Golden Masques for the Best Production, the highest Russian theater award.

“Every theater director should be able to do what their actors do, but do it even better,” he says.

Though Kordonskiy is low key about the accolades he’s received, he does keep a production portfolio, thickened with performance photographs, newspaper clippings and flyers from the shows. Among them, features from the Washington Post, the Washington Times, St. Petersburg Theatre Journal, and even a three-page spread in the November 2005 Romanian issue of Elle Magazine. He’s also been featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and three shows on National Television in Bucharest, Romania.

The acclaim is even more impressive considering the stage was not Kordonskiy’s first calling. In fact, he has a master’s degree in math and worked as an engineer before turning to professional theater.

“I was walking to work one day and said, ‘My job is boring. I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and I turned around and went home,” he says.

But he did have a plan. During his years at Odessa State University in Ukraine, he participated in theater. His improve theater group, The Club of Cheerful and Witty Ones, competed against other student teams and was aired on a national television. He continued on in repertory theater after getting his master’s in mathematics.

Kordonskiy decided to apply to the State Academy of Theatre Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia. There were thousands of applicants. Kondonskiy was one of only nine students.

He entered the Academy’s “theater boot camp” and danced, acted, sang, directed and even practiced acrobatics six days a week while studying mythology, theory and history of arts, among other theoretical disciplines. He received his master’s in fine art ‘in acting in 1995 and in directing in 1997 under Russian director Lev Dodin.

Kordonskiy was hired as a resident director and actor with the Maly Drama Theatre – Theatre of Europe in St. Petersburg. He produced an original play and took original roles, one of which he played for several years and took him with Maly’s touring company through 20 countries.

In 2001, Kordonskiy moved to the United States and was hired to direct The Marriage, Dangerous Corner, The Little Prince and Antigone in the Classika Theatre in Arlington, Va. He also taught classes as an acting teacher and resident director.

A year later, he came to Wesleyan as an assistant professor of theater and began teaching classes in directing, acting and his self-invented class on the theater of Anton Chekhov, which is cross-listed with the College of Letters and Russian Studies Department. Kordonskiy also advises frosh, tutors senior-year honors projects, and serves as a guest lecturer for the theater history course on Russian theater.

Having a conservatory-trained artist at Wesleyan who brings his rich and intense background to liberal arts context is big advantage to the Theater Department, explains Carr.

“I admire the way he has adapted this conservatory, no compromise, approach to directing and teaching to our diverse, multi-focused students,” Carr says. “The students regard him as possibly the most demanding professor in the department, and at the same time they love working with him.”

Kordonskiy has opted for advanced acting, directing and lighting design classes to merge during class times to create a full production. This collaboration has led to increased enthusiasm by the students.

Mosah Fernandez-Goodman ‘04, associate director of the annual fund, says being a student under “Yuriy” was one of the best academic experiences he has had at Wesleyan.

“He was extremely well organized, insightful and patient, and his expectations were clear from the beginning of the project and he worked to develop each student’s talent to their highest levels,” Fernandez-Goodman says. “I think working with him is something I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life.”

For Kordonskiy, teaching has become as much a passion as directing and acting.

“I’ve worked with some very creative, interesting students here at Wesleyan and in general, they seem to be very mature,” Kordonskiy says. “They bring a lot of joy to the classroom and when I learn from them, I feel younger.”
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Squash, Tennis Coach Knows What all the Racket is About


Shona Kerr, head men’s and women’s squash coach and assistant women’s tennis coach, says the opportunity to help the Wesleyan Squash program reach its potential is among her goals as a new coach.
 
Posted 03/01/06
Q: When were you hired as Wesleyan’s head men’s and women’s squash coach and assistant women’s tennis coach?

A: July was when I first set foot on Wesleyan’s campus as head squash coach and assistant tennis coach. I spent the summer in and out of the office, preparing for the season, moving to Middletown, coaching at some squash camps and starting the recruiting of new players for the Wesleyan Squash Team.

Q: How similar are tennis and squash?

A: All racket sports have similarities and differences. In tennis you face your opponent and take it in turns to hit a ball over a net. In squash you take it in turns to hit a ball against a wall and share the same space. I often tell people squash is like tennis we just replaced the net with a wall. The squash ball is much smaller and the racket is lighter and unlike tennis we have four walls that we can use to play different angle shots.

Q: Is squash an easy game to pick up?

A: It is an easy game to pick up and yes, anyone can do this. The principle is very simple, you hit a ball against a wall. Most people are able to do this very quickly and get rallying very quickly which is when the game starts to be fun. Unlike tennis you do not need to go a very long way to pick up balls and it is much easier to keep the ball in play so there is very little wasted exercise time on a squash court and the rallies can be much longer. Once you are able to rally with an opponent you can begin to strategize and put the ball in difficult places to reach creating the work out aspect. Some say squash is physical chess and often the strategic mental side to the sport completely takes your mind of the physical effort making for a pleasurable alternative to the treadmill.

Q: Prior to Wesleyan, you coached squash at Wellesley College for four years, finishing with a 44-40 record. Why did you come to Wesleyan?

A: The new facility is obviously gorgeous with eight international size courts, a big step up from my previous position where we had six American narrow squash courts. Aside from this material factor the opportunity to take the Wesleyan Squash program and help it reach its potential was a big attraction. Previously I worked with just a women’s team so to do both men and women was a big draw also.

Q: Prior to coaching at Wellesley, where did you coach?

A: I coached the Cardiff University men’s and women’s teams as well as teaching privately in clubs and assisting with some junior level county squash. These were all part time positions and one of the big reasons to come to the United States was that there are actually full time positions in college coaching unlike in the U.K. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the U.S. in this capacity so everything about the transition was positive to me. The university and college system is very different in the U.S. and the approach to varsity teams is a world apart from my own experiences so that took a while to get a handle on.

Q: What was the worst part about your transition to the U.S.?

A: The most tedious and stressful part of the move is gaining work authorization as anyone from overseas who is working here will tell you. The work itself has been a pleasure.

Q: As a player, you were a member of the Welsh University’s team from 1996-99, and a member of the UWIC team, which won the Women’s Welsh Premiere League. Not to mention, you were a national squash age-group champion for under-35 in 2004 and 05, and also played for the Boston Ladies “A” Team which won the Howe Cup. Do you still play competitively?

A: I definitely still consider myself an active player and hope to do so for a long while to come. I have actually won U.S. National Championships in the under 35 and 5.0 skill level, the highest women’s skill level, categories for the past two years. They are only letting women enter one skill level this year so I will be attempting to retain the 5.0 skill level title for the 3rd consecutive year next month. As a junior I played for England at the under 19 and under 16 levels, this is one of the achievements I am most proud of. Most of my contemporaries are now very successful professional squash players.

Q: You serve as vice-president of the College Squash Association. Tell me a bit about this association and its purpose.

A: I will be moving into the second year of my two-year term as vice-president of the College Squash Association. The association basically oversees the running of college squash in the U.S. The NCAA governs other college sports but squash is not yet in this category. Women’s squash is an NCAA emerging sport and looks like it will gain this status in the next five years. Until then the association is a group of volunteer coaches who attempt to make sure competition is fair and that promote the development of college squash.

Q: As adjunct assistant professor of physical education, what classes are you teaching?

A: Squash – as you would guess, although I have taught golf, sailing and tennis prior to Wesleyan. I also run a squash course for the community as part of the Adult Fitness program.

Q: In squash and tennis, what lessons or skills do you stress?

A: I try and instill the value of commitment and that is to yourself, your teammates, your coach and your school. At college we play as a team so the choices you make will affect yourself, your team, and ultimately your school. There are many life skills that parallel to the world of squash and include aspects such as emotional control, dealing with pressure situations, being fair, strategizing, pushing and breaking through physical barriers to name just a few. This is in addition to the actual skill level and physical abilities that need to be developed in this sport.

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

A: I earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Cardiff University in 1998 and am pursuing a Masters Degree here at Wesleyan. I also hold a Level III advanced coaching certification from the England Squash Association.

Q: Men’s Squash ended it’s season in Feb. 19 with an 11-15 record, but still placed third of eight teams in “D” Division, 27th place nationally. Who were the top individuals of the team this year?

A: We were placed 3rd in our division but have finished the season ranked 26 as the runners up of the division were Vassar, a team we beat twice in the past few weeks. Rochester was the only team we lost to in that group and the winners of the division. It would be hard for me to single out individuals as we play and compete as a team. Everybody put in good performances and when we all achieved that on the same day the team got some great wins. Evan Lodge was invaluable at the top of the line up and always rose to the competition. J.Z. Golden was the team motivator and lead from the number 6 team position.

Q: And what about the women’s team who placed 24th nationally?

A: The women’s team moved up a division this year from the “D” to the “C” flight, no mean achievement. Win-Loss records don’t always reflect things like this and we played many top-level teams to get to this place. Again a team achieved this achievement with Senior Captain Alex Loh truly growing into her position as a leader and first year, Brittany Delany flying the flag at the very difficult number one position. First year, Andrea Giuliano, at the number eight spot, inspired the team with her “no lose” attitude.

Q: Has this been a challenging season, being a new coach?

A: The challenge this year was to create a varsity program attitude and bring together a group of individuals and mold them into a team that works together, supports each other and respects one another. No individual can improve solely by himself or herself, so establishing this environment was very important. Next year I am looking forward to building on this and introducing new players to the group that will enhance these qualities and improves the playing and training standard of the teams.

Q: What are your thoughts on Wesleyan’s new Rosenbaum Squash Center?

A: It has made a lot of rival schools very envious and I cannot speak highly enough about the facility. The space and the layout are excellent not to mention that it is fully air-conditioned for summer play. It means we are able to host a lot more home matches and events, run camps and that Wesleyan can attract aspiring junior squash players that are serious about their sport

Q: I understand you’ve taught at several squash camps. Can you tell me about these?

A: Squash camps are the same as any other sport camp that school children would attend in the summer. I did direct a summer sport/squash camp on behalf of Squashbusters, which was entirely different. The camp was a sport camp for local school children between 8- and 14-years-old. It was free to attend and each participant played squash every day alongside other sports and life skills sessions. It was by far the toughest camp I have ever worked at and in hindsight the most satisfying.

Q: What is Squashbusters?

A: Squashbusters is an inner city after school program that helps sections of Boston’s youth with their school studies and teaches them about life through the game of squash. They draw from a couple of schools in the Roxbury area and then compete as a high school and middle school team. There are a number of these urban youth squash programs springing up in the U.S. This year’s number three men’s team member, Lonnie Gibbs, came through Streetsquash – the New York equivalent to Squashbusters. Lonnie is the second Urban squash program member to play at the collegiate level and I’m certain there will be many more.

Q: In addition to squash and tennis, what other sports do you enjoy playing or watching? What are your hobbies or interests aside from sports?

A: Most recently I have been hooked to watching the Winter Olympics and am looking forward to the upcoming World Cup Soccer Championships this year. I like to watch any sport at its best and watching individuals achieving excellence. I like to play golf when I get time, listening to any kind of live music as relaxation and travel whenever I can squeeze it in my schedule.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Student Wrestler Wins NECCWA Championship


Dan deLalla ’07, pictured on top, received the New England College Conference Wrestling Association (NECCWA) Championship title at 157 pounds.
Posted 03/01/06
Wrestling team co-captain Dan deLalla ’07 received the New England College Conference Wrestling Association (NECCWA) Championship title at 157 pounds during the match, hosted by Wesleyan Feb. 18 and 19.

deLalla becomes Wesleyan first NCAA qualifier since Brian Fair ’01 captured the 149-pound title in 2001. DeLalla traveled to the College of New Jersey for the NCAA Division III Championships March 3 and 4. deLalla competed in the 157-pount weight class for Wesleyan and lost to third-seeded Robert Gingerrich of North Central, 13-7, in the opening round. He then lost by pin (1:26) to Ryan Herwig of Delaware Valley in the consolation round.

deLalla injured his left elbow during the preseason, sat out the entire regular season but continued to train and practice on his own throughout the winter.

Two other Cardinals took all-New England honors at their weights as Josh Wildes ’08 placed third at 133 pounds and Mike Lima ’08 took fifth at 197 pounds

 
By Brian Katten, Sports Information Director

Research Professor Examines Greenhouse Emissions in Deep Sea Biota at National Symposium


Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental sciences, examines the fossils of sea creatures from her office in Exley Science Center. Thomas extracted her samples from the ocean’s floor. She says they are more than 65 million years old.

Posted 03/01/06
The largest habitat on Earth lies hundreds to thousands of feet beneath sea level, in a dark, near-freezing, high-pressure environment with little food.

About 65 million years ago, the life forms living on the ocean-floor in this habitat survived the an asteroid impact, which probably wiped out the dinosaurs and many other forms of life on land and in the sea. But 55 million years ago, an episode of rapid global warming caused extinction of a third to half of the species of sea-bottom dwellers.

Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental sciences, argues that fossils from these unicellular sea creatures can help in understanding how the biota would react to another onslaught of global warming caused by a rapid emission of greenhouse gases.

“In general, deep-sea benthic foraminifera do not easily suffer large extinction; most of them are cosmopolitan, and can survive local environmental problems in a refugium somewhere in the world’s oceans,” Thomas explains. “The extinction was most probably caused by metabolic and ecosystem restructuring due to rapid global warming,” she says.

Thomas recently presented her ideas in an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) symposium on the topic “Ancient Greenhouse Emissions and Hothouse Climates,” held Feb. 17 in St. Louis, Mo. The AAAS is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world.

In this session, Thomas and six other experts examined the major periods of hothouse climates and their associated greenhouse gas levels from a geological perspective and integrated geologic, chemical, and biologic proxy records.

Thomas discussed “Deep-Sea Biota: Consequences of Massive Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” and recalled the global warming episode about 55 million years ago. During this period, the planet’s temperature rapidly rose between 9 and 16 degrees F in a short period of time.

“Deep-sea biota are so poorly known so that we can not predict their reaction to direct and indirect effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, but their fossil remains can be used to study the behavior of deep-sea biota during global warming,” Thomas explains.

Thomas joined speakers from Pennsylvania State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Northwestern University, University of California, Santa Cruz, Columbia University, Rice University and The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

The speakers’ joint argument was that this period of natural global warming can be used as an example to give scientists valuable information on what happens to the planet and its life during such episodes of greenhouse warming. After debating, the speakers concluded that it is possible that climate sensitivity to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is larger than specified in most commonly used climate models. It is thus possible that the earth will warm up more than presently expected as a response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

The sessions were attended by scientists, but also journalists, teachers and others simply interested in science. Because the symposium was spread out over four days, Thomas was able to attend other presentations outside of her field of expertise.

“I attended highly interesting, interdisciplinary sessions on intelligent design, scientific integrity, and a session on political and economic aspects of climate change in the near future,” she says.

Thomas also was selected to be an interviewee at the AAAS-organized press conference prior to her talk. She and four other speakers gave brief introductions to their research and answered questions from journalists. Thomas spoke to reporters from the AAAS paper ‘Science’, and other non-science media such as The Economist from the United Kingdom, a Swedish newspaper, and two Dutch TV-radio stations. Thomas, who is originally from The Netherlands, spoke to these reporters in Dutch.

“They were very thrilled to be able to interview someone who is from Holland and could speak in Dutch,” she says. “I had not realized what a large international press representation there was going to be.”

AAAS President Gilbert Omenn says the symposium’s program was designed to challenge scientists, engineers, teachers and citizens to frame important scientific and societal problems in ways that create opportunities to apply the best in science and technology for broad benefit.

“We can mobilize individual disciplines and cross-disciplinary work on major national and global goals,” he said. “We can boldly define problems and potential solutions for the decades ahead, thereby inspiring the scientific and engineering community and attracting young people to this mission.”

 
By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor

Project $AVE Wants Input on Saving Money, Improving Efficiencies


Phil Cotharin, temperature controls mechanic/energy management specialist, is helping Wesleyan significantly reduce energy waste and save money. A new initiative, Project $AVE, will work with the campus community to implement energy-saving ideas.

Posted 03/01/06
During the past two years:

  • The Purchasing Office negotiated purchasing contracts, competitive bidding and individual purchasing negotiations, saving $800,000.
  • Wesleyan Station contracted with a new vendor for handling first-class university mail services to save $4,000 annually.
  • The Freeman Athletic Center added energy-efficient fixtures, automated light sensors and high efficiency pumps to provide a rebate of $18,300.
  • Waste management efficiencies consolidated four dumpsters into one trash compactor at a central location, yielding $32,000 in annual savings.

    These are just a few ways Wesleyan has worked to save money and develop sustainable and viable efficiencies on campus. Now, a new initiative called “Project $AVE” will add to this success by collecting additional ideas for sustained cost savings throughout the Wesleyan community.

    Project $AVE, http://www.wesleyan.edu/projectsave/, is operated by a team faculty, staff and students who will carefully evaluate all suggestions submitted. The team will uses it own expertise in evaluating suggestions. When necessary, the team will also reach out to community members with relevant expertise to help evaluate selected suggestions.

    The status of ideas will be posted on the Project $AVE Web site as the team goes through evaluation and implementation.

    “We are most interested in suggestions that will result in permanent and on-going savings, but will also review suggestions for one-time savings,” says John Meerts, interim vice president for finance.

    Project $ave offered the first 25 people who submitted an idea with a gift coupon to Pi Café or the Red and Black Café. More than 50 people submitted ideas on the site’s launch date, Feb. 22.

    “We want all ideas whether big or small from everyone on campus,” says Ed Below, review team chair and director of Administrative Applications. “The more ideas, the more we save and the better we all get at doing our jobs.”

    Members of the Project $AVE review team are Below, Cliff Ashton, director of Physical Plant; Matt Ball ’08; Rick Culliton, dean of Campus Programs; Gemma Ebstein, director of Alumni and Parent Relations; Marc Eisner, professor of government; Diane Klare, science library reference librarian; Steve Machuga, Project Save technical advisor and director of Administrative Systems; Brian Stewart, associate professor of physics; Gabe Tabak ’06 and Jesse Watson ’06.

    To post a suggestion or to suggest a way for a process to work better, users can submit their ideas by leaving a message at the Project $AVE phone line, 860-685-2883, or by posting the suggestion on the Project $AVE Web Site.

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    By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor

    Outreach Program Gives Local Students a Taste of East Asian Culture


    Pictured at top, right, Yashan Zhou ’09 and Mo Sarakun ’07 teach seventh graders from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School how to make their own sushi rolls.

    Pictured at left, Ada Fung ’06 teaches the students how to paint cherry blossoms on rice paper.

    Pictured below, Alex Weber ’06 teaches martial arts and the history of the shaolin.

    Posted 03/01/06
    Seventh-grader Liam Wolfram had tried sushi at Japanese restaurants, but he’s never attempted to make his own. Last month, Liam did just that as he and 25 of his classmates from Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown experienced a taste of East Asian Culture at Wesleyan by preparing their own sushi rolls.

    “It only took about a minute to make, and it’s really good,” Liam says, chomping off a bite of his seaweed wrap, teeming with tuna, cucumber and carrot. “The rice sticks to the top of your mouth, though.”

    Sushi making, rice-paper painting and martial arts were all taught during the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Outreach Program. Now in its 19th year, the program was designed to reach students in the community by providing a range of hands-on activities that introduce them to various aspects of East Asian cultures.

    The student-run program is offered Friday mornings throughout the academic year and reaches about 300 students each year. Wesleyan students plan and run the activity workshops for each visiting class.

    “What do you know about Japan?” asks the program’s co-coordinator Mo Sarakun ’07.

    “It’s made up of islands,” one student answers.

    “They have a lot of noodles there,” another replies.

    Sarakun, a China native who studies Japanese culture at Wesleyan, taught the sushi session and talked to the students about Japan. Afterwards, the seventh graders moved to another room to learn about painting on rice paper.

    Program co-coordinator Ada Fung ’06 taught painting techniques and the students participated and went back to school with their own paintings of cherry blossoms.

    Fung, who has worked as a coordinator for three years, says she enjoys working with area children because of their eagerness to learn something new.

    “Curiosity and open-mindedness are the two most important things a student can bring when they come to participate in the program because they’ll get a lot more out of it,” she says. “It’s a crash course in East Asian culture, but if we can plant the seed, just inspire and encourage them to keep learning about other cultures and countries, I think we will have achieved our purpose.”

    The Outreach Program’s coordinators tailor each session to the incoming class’s age level, ranging from preschool through high school. Visiting classes average about 25 students in size, and are split into three smaller groups which rotate among the activity sessions. This way, each student has the opportunity to participate in three different activities.

    Other sessions offered include Writing and Language, Food in East Asia, Martial Arts, Japanese Tea Ceremony, East Asian Music, Traditional Clothing, Kamishibai Story-telling and Origami. Po-wei Weng, a graduate student in the Music Department, also has taught segments on Peking Opera, introducing the music, techniques, gongs and symbols.

    The sessions may include visits in the Freeman Center’s Japanese-style tatami room and garden, a kitchen to prepare Chinese and Japanese meals, and a gallery with changing exhibitions of East Asian art.

    Wesleyan students benefit from teaching the sessions, explains Stephen Angle, chair of the East Asian Studies Program, director of the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies and associate professor of East Asian Studies and philosophy.

    “The Outreach Program gives our own Wesleyan students the opportunity to practice communicating their understanding of East Asian culture to others,” Angle says. “At the same time, our students are serving a younger generation of students in the community surrounding Wesleyan.”

    This is the second year Kim Fentress, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson school, brought her geography students to the Wesleyan program.

    “We’re just beginning to study East Asian culture, and the program here at Wesleyan really ties in with that we’re learning,” Fentress says. “It’s wonderful we have Wesleyan right here in Middletown.”

    For more information on the Outreach Program, contact program coordinator Shirley Lawrence at 860-685-2330 or e-mail slawrence@wesleyan.edu, or Ada Fung at afung@wesleyan.edu.

     
    By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor

    The Wesleyan Connection: Campus Snapshot

    CHINESE PAINTING: Pictured at left, center, artist Zhang Hong, from the Art and Industrial Design College at Beijing Institute of Technology, teaches Chinese ink painting during a demonstration-workshop Feb. 2 at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies.

    Hong presented a slide-show and history on the art form, and introduced the 20 participants to the tools and techniques of traditional Chinese painting. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

    Neuroscience and Behavior Alumni Present Research, Offer Advice


    Pictured left to right, front row: Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology; John Seamon, professor of psychology; Janice Naegele, associate professor of biology; John Dekker, candidate, department of neurobiology, Harvard Medical School; Megan Carey, postdoctoral fellow, neurobiology department, Harvard Medical School; Allan Berlind, professor of biology, emeritus; Joshua Gooley, postdoctoral fellow, Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; David Bodznick, professor of biology; Harry Sinnamon, professor of psychology; John Kirn, chair, neuroscience and behavior program and associate professor, biology; Back row: Sam Sober, postdoctoral fellow, Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, UCSF and Mauricio Delgado, assistant professor, department of psychology, Rutgers University.

    Posted 02/16/06
    The Neuroscience and Behavior Symposium was held at Wesleyan University on Feb. 11.

    Organized by John Kirn, associate professor of biology, neuroscience and behavior (NS&B) and Chair of Wesleyan’s Neuroscience & Behavior Program, the symposium was designed to allow current Wesleyan undergraduates to discuss the major and research with established alumni of the Neuroscience & Behavior Department. Nearly 60 people attended the symposium, which was followed by lunch and an informal panel discussion.

    “I think that current students like to hear first hand about the experiences of others who are a few steps further along in their career paths,” says Kirn, who hoped to also attract to the symposium Wesleyan students who don’t conduct research, and who have limited interactions with graduate students.

    “All of our current majors doing research interact with our own graduate students and I think this is a very important mentoring process – yet another reason why we are lucky to have a Ph.D. program,” he says.

    Kirn also says the conference was a great opportunity for current students to learn how the speakers structured their own educations at Wesleyan and to find out what their lives are like now.

    Current Wesleyan students, like Emily Gallivan and Jessica Ghofrani, both Sophomore NS&B majors, were happy with the small, intimate symposium setting and found the presentations interesting.

    Junior NS&B major Tarek Sami agrees.

    “I liked hearing about the history of the department and this was a great opportunity to meet alumni and current faculty in the department,” he says.

    One of the symposium’s featured speakers was alumna Megan Carey ‘96, now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. Carey also received a master’s from Wesleyan University’s NS&B department in 1997. She presented a talk on her Ph.D, thesis which she earned from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), titled “Visual instructive signals for motor learning.”

    Carey’s work suggests a mechanism for how sensory signals represented in specific brain areas can lead to changes in neuronal activities that trigger learned behaviors, such as riding a bike or playing tennis. Carey studied the repeated eye movements of monkeys in order to gather her information.

    Another alumni, Sam Sober ‘98, discussed his Ph.D. dissertation research, titled “Sensory Integration During Motor Planning.”

    Sober, who also received his Ph.D. from UCSF, is now a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF’s Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience. He spoke about his Ph.D., which involved analyzing the movements that human subjects made when reaching towards targets in a virtual reality environment.

    Sober used virtual reality to alter visual imagery, by shifting an image of the subjects arm away from its true location.

    “This led to people making reaching errors,” explains Sober. “We analyzed these errors and found that the brain is very adaptable in how it combines visual information with proprioceptive (the felt sense of posture) information.”

    Sober says that although his studies focused on healthy individuals, a basic understanding of how the brain integrates different sources of information could help us understand disorders resulting from strokes and traumatic brain injuries.

    Sober, who earned a Luce Fellowship, took a year off after graduating from Wesleyan to study acupuncture in Korea. He told the audience that taking a year off between finishing undergraduate studies and beginning graduatestudies or medical school was a good way to stem potential burn out.

    Other presentations included “Entrainment of the Circadian Timing System,” by Joshua Gooley ’00; “Reward-related processing in the human striatum,” by Mauricio Delgado ’97 and “Single Channel Analysis of Mammalian HCN Gating,” by John Dekker ’98, ’99.

    “These speakers, who once did research in our labs, are now doing excellent work and we wanted to recognize them for their achievements,” says Kirn. “Based on suggestions of some students, we’d like to host something like this again with alumni who aren’t in academic positions – with a theme like ‘Just what can I do with this NS&B degree anyway?’”

     
    By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations

    Grant Supports Professor’s Research on DNA, RNA Structure and Dynamics


    David Beveridge, pictured at right, the University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics and professor of chemistry studies molecular dynamics of biological molecules and systems with postdoctoral fellow Bethany Kormos and research associate Surjit Dixit.

    Posted 02/16/06

    By simulating complex protein and polynucleotide structures on a supercomputer, a Wesleyan professor has been able to study one the fundamental events that lead to gene expression in biological systems.

    David Beveridge, University Professor of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry, has spent the past 20 years studying various aspects of the structures, molecular motions and binding properties of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) using theoretical methods. DNA and RNA are informational macromolecules that control the composition of proteins necessary to life structures and processes.

    Beveridge recently received a $241,950 Academic Research Enhancement Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to continue his project “Theoretical and Molecular Dynamics Simulation Studies of U1A-RNA Binding and Specificity.” U1A is an important human protein that interacts with RNA.

    “Biological processes involved in gene expression are all controlled by protein-DNA and protein- RNA interactions,” Beveridge explains. “We study the nature of these interactions at the molecular level, and how the molecules involved recognize each other with such high fidelity.”

    An understanding of how RNA-protein complexes form and are stabilized is important for understanding the splicing out of stretches of DNA.

    Molecular dynamics simulations in this project were motivated by questions posed in experiments performed by Anne Baranger, associate professor of chemistry; and they have been collaborating on protein RNA projects for several years. Bethany Kormos, who is supported by a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship, and Surjit Dixit, senior research associate, are key coworkers on this project and “really do the work,” Beveridge says.

    “David has been a fantastic colleague to collaborate with because he is particularly talented at developing projects that aim to investigate and understand fundamental important problems in his field,” Baranger explains. “It has been valuable to me as an experimentalist to work with a person who has developed theoretical methods to answer questions that are difficult to achieve experimentally.”

    To progress in his research, Beveridge and his colleagues study the factors contributing to the stability of RNA-protein complexes with a particular emphasis on “dynamical structure,” the nature and significance of molecular motions involved in the complex formation.

    Molecular simulations of this type are quite computationally intensive. The Beveridge group carries out their calculations with high performance computers at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois. The communication between Wesleyan and NCSA to run simulations involves over the Internet.

    The results of a simulation are returned to laboratories at Wesleyan over the Internet and are analyzed locally for these properties using advanced computer graphics work stations.

    “Remote access to national supercomputer facilities enables cutting edge research in this field from even a small university vantage point, makes it possible simulate model systems quite close to those involved in experiments,” Beveridge says. “We can computer model systems closer to laboratory conditions than I ever dreamed of 40 years ago.”

    Beveridge grew up in the “Sputnik Era” and found the launching of the Soviet space satellite as an incentive to study science. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio in 1959 and his Ph.D in physical chemistry from the University of Cincinnati in 1965. Under a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health, he studied molecular quantum mechanics at the Centre de Mécanique Ondulatoire Appliquée in Paris, and continued his postdoctoral studies in quantum chemistry at Carnegie-Mellon University with Professor J.A. Pople, a Nobel laureate.

    In addition to research and teaching, Beveridge serves as Wesleyan’s co-director with Ishita Mukerji of the NIH-supported graduate training program and the undergraduate certificate in molecular biophysics.

    “David is certainly one of the department’s most successful scientists,” says Mukerji, chair of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department and associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry. “He has brought much recognition to the department and to the Molecular Biophysics program.”

    Beveridge has served Wesleyan as Dean of Natural Science and Mathematics for seven years and currently holds the title of University Professor of the Natural Science and Mathematics.

    Beveridge has overseen a number of undergraduate research projects at Wesleyan, and has mentored both bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D students in their dissertation research. Recent master’s graduates include Duk Blakaj ‘99, now a medical doctor/Ph.D student at Einstein Medical School, and Laura Vickers ’05, who is currently a medical doctor student at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Matthew Young ’92, who initially worked with Beveridge as an undergraduate and continued on to get a Ph.D, has just been appointed to the faculty of the University of Michigan’s Medical School as an assistant professor of biological chemistry and bioinformatics. Five former research students now hold positions as college or university professors – “my greatest achievement,”  Beveridge says.

    By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor


    Professor Looks for Similarities in Science, Art

    Six years ago, David Beveridge began combining teaching and personal interests in the visual arts with scholarship.

    Along with Mariah Klaneski ’04, he developed two classes, Science and Modernism and more recently, Science and Art. In Science and Art, interested students, even those with no particular science background, learn basic concepts in class and in the associated laboratory make paper and fresco, synthesize their own pigments using chemical reactions, make paint of various types, and use all their own materials to make original works of art.

    “An ultimate experience in learning by doing,” Beveridge says.

    Beveridge’s teaching at Wesleyan now ranges from topics in physical chemistry applied to biological systems to general education courses. His currently active courses at Wesleyan in addition to those mentioned above are Molecular Biophysics, and Macromolecular Modeling and Simulation.

    Beveridge has more than a passing interest in the visual arts and has taken “a dozen or so” drawing, painting and photography courses offered by Wesleyan’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program and elsewhere. He is curious about the parallels between the arts and the sciences.

    “Both are very experimental in a sense, but make use of images in very different ways,” Beveridge explains. “It is interesting to investigate the extent to which viewer response to art follows natural laws analogous to those of science, and where the similarities and differences in creative process occur between scientists and artists.”

    Being at Wesleyan has given Beveridge the chance to be involved in a wide range of academic initiatives, both within the sciences and in other areas of the university.

    “I’m pretty much a compulsive learner, and Wesleyan accommodates my natural instinct to be a ‘perpetual student,'” he says.

    University Organist Pulls Out All the Stops


    Ronald Ebrecht, university organist, plays Wesleyan’s concert organ, which he designed for the Memorial Chapel. Below, the organ pipes are installed in the chapel. (Photos by Bill Burkhart)
     
    Posted 02/16/06
    Q: When did you become the Wesleyan organist and visiting instructor in music?

    A: I came to Wesleyan in 1988.

    Q: How did you begin playing the organ and where?

    A: I started as a young child, maybe around the age of 10. I loved the organ like kids love fire trucks.

    Q: Did you have an interest in piano that led to the organ?

    A: I didn’t want anything to do with the piano. It wasn’t loud enough.

    Q: You studied at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, Yale University, and Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Were you always studying the organ? What types of music in specific?

    A: In addition to organ, I also studied harpsichord at all three institutions. This does not mean that I was only interested in Baroque music. In organ concerts, I play a wide range of repertoire. My research, writing and editions are of late 19th and early 20th century French music.

    Q: In 1990, you founded the Young Organ Virtuosi Weekend, a biennial festival that celebrates the talents of emerging concert organists. What is the purpose of this event?

    A: The festival’s purpose is to be a non-contest. That is, there are too many organ-playing contests and too few concert opportunities for the laureates. It is much more pleasant to direct than a contest would be because the visitors get to enjoy the company of each other and to interact collegially with our students. The audience is a mix of students and local organ aficionados.

    Q: What is the Midnight Organ Romp?

    A: The not-to-be-missed event of the first week of May is themed, but different each year. It is about costumes and craziness. I share this concert with any students who are interested, which makes them more exciting for everyone.

    Q: Are you still the dean of the American Guild of Organists Waterbury Chapter? How many organists are in the chapter and in the state of Connecticut?

    A: We have 84 in the Waterbury Chapter. There are five other Connecticut chapters and about 3,000 members in the country. We think about 10 percent of organists belong to the guild.

    Q: Why should students interested in music study the organ? What types of careers can they go into with this type of skill and background?

    A: Playing the organ is the world’s best-paying part-time employment. Students with keyboard ability who study organ have every conceivable major. They often use the organ to support graduate study and supplement their income later in life. There are relatively fewer opportunities for full-time employment.

    Q: During the 2002-03 renovations of the Memorial Chapel, you designed the new concert organ, a Holtkamp opus 2085. This is Wesleyan’s fourth organ. What makes the Holtkamp unique?

    A: I designed the organ to be adaptable to current and future compositional needs. It has a very broad tonal palette both in terms of color and volume. Whatever the mathematical result is for 60 combinations, which must be several thousand, is the limit of possible sounds.

    Q: Do the music students get to use this organ, or what do they practice on?

    A: The beginners are intimidated to practice upstairs in public, so they often use my studio organ for the first semester’s practice and then use the big organ when they feel more confident.

    Q: As a visiting instructor in music, you’ve taught Choral Singing, Pipe Organ: Theory and Practice and Individual and Group Tutorials for Undergraduates. What are some of the courses you currently teach

    A: I am trying to finish my new book, and only teaching organ and one harpsichordist these days. Usually, I direct some senior projects but not this semester.

    Q: What is your new book about?

    A: Aristide Cavaille-Coll. He’s the greatest organ-builder of all time. I am writing my new book about his project to build the largest organ in the world at Saint Peter’s in Rome. I’ve also written about American music, Black organ music, Messiaen and other composers.

    Q: You’re editor of Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) The Last Impressionist, which features seven articles on Duruflé’s life and work. What is your personal interest in this French organist?

    A: I knew the composer and his wife and her sister, also a musician, quite well. I met them at age 18 and learned French to be able to speak with them. I studied with them and play his complete organ works. I have also conducted his complete choral works, and most of the orchestral and chamber music. I know all the other scholars who had written about them, so invited everyone to join together for the book for his centennial in 2002. I never imagined it would be acquired by libraries on every continent as the first biography of this important composer.

    Q: In addition to music, what are your interests?

    A: I am an avid flower gardener. I live to cook and entertain, and generally enjoy life. I also would like to make a fad of wearing dress shirts with bowties.
     

    By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

    Grant will Support Lecture Series on Ethics, Politics, Society


    Posted 02/16/06
    Wesleyan received a $200,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support an ongoing lecture series titled Ethics, Politics and Society. The award was given in honor of Douglas Bennet’s 10 years as president of Wesleyan University.

    “Wesleyan’s history of diversity, openness, and activism provides an environment that embraces the opportunity for scholarly discourse around issues of ethics, politics and society,” Bennet wrote in the endowment proposal. “As a liberal arts college, we have a responsibility to produce graduates who are able to think and act strategically within an ethical and moral framework. A permanent lecture fund, which does not have to compete each year for scarce financial resources, will go far in helping us achieve this goal.”

    The grant, awarded in December 2005, will allow Wesleyan to bring prominent speakers to campus who will engage faculty and students in intellectual discussions of critical and sensitive ethical, political and social issues.

    The lecture fund will serve multiple university objectives. It will stimulate intellectual life on campus by introducing new perspectives and experiences to current issues; promote positive and civil political discourse; lay a foundation for lifelong participation as concerned and engaged citizens; and complement efforts already underway to incorporate ethical reasoning in the curriculum.

    Expenditures from the Mellon-funded program, estimated at $10,000 a year, will be used for an honorarium, travel expenses and associated costs for the speaker to give a public lecture, attend a class and/or meet informally with faculty and students for one or two days.

    “As on many college campuses, Wesleyan recognizes that recent national events, as well as ongoing political and social unrest in several parts of the world, have altered how students view society as well as how they discuss their views,” Bennet says. “As students and later as graduates of Wesleyan, they will be faced with moral and ethical choices. This will be true, he says, in whatever courses of study or careers our students choose to pursue, from business to scientific research to politics to art.”

    Wesleyan is already stressing ethical reasoning in the curriculum. Wesleyan has hired new faculty positions in ethics and encourages faculty to designate courses that stress ethical reasoning.

    The university also has established a faculty workshop to help them integrate ethics in their courses. This year, students can chose from among 88 courses with an ethics designation.

    “Wesleyan has a responsibility to prepare students to think clearly about current issues, to make informed choices and resolve conflict between diverse viewpoints,” Bennet says.

    Wesleyan’s Basketball Team Encourages Green Street Students to Aim High


    Pictured left to right, 9-year-old Monica gets homework help from Wesleyan basketball players Gabe Gonzalez-Kreisberg ’09, Jared Ashe ’07 and Nick Pelletier ’08 during the Green Street Arts Center After School Program. Below, Gonzalez-Kreisberg, who helped launch an ongoing tutoring volunteer initiative goes over a book report with 7-year-old J.J. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

    Posted 02/16/06

    Students involved in Middletown’s Green Street Arts Center After School Program look up to Wesleyan University’s basketball team in more ways than one.

    “They always tell me that I’m so tall!” exclaims Gabe Gonzalez-Kreisberg, a 6-ft. 8-inch tall Wesleyan freshman, recalling how students he helps tutor at the center, like 7-year-old J.J., describe him.

    Gonzalez-Kreisberg recently helped launch an ongoing tutoring volunteer initiative at Green Street Arts Center with Wesleyan University’s basketball players.

    The idea first occurred to Gonzalez-Kreisberg after Wesleyan basketball coach Gerry McDowell encouraged his team to volunteer in the Middletown area during their winter break from classes.

    Gonzalez-Kreisberg remembered an e-mail he received from Wesleyan’s community service office calling for tutors at Green Street’s After School Program. He then mentioned the program to Coach McDowell and the entire team immediately agreed to help.

    As a result, in shifts of four players per day, the basketball team began to regularly tutor Middletown children enrolled in the program. Even now, with spring semester underway, a handful of players continue to tutor in their free time.

    “Many athletes have a sense that things should be given to them, and I wanted our team to know that they should give something back to the community,” says McDowell. “Our team is a solid group of guys, who all care about one another on and off the court and this is important for them to do as a team.”

    “I love math and I always encourage the kids to stay with it and to have fun,” says Jared Ashe, the Wesleyan basketball team captain and a junior Economics major from Stamford, Conn. “In sports, great coaching motivates you to play your best. I want to motivate the kids with their homework in the same way.”

    When they arrive at the Green Street Arts Center, the students, who range in age from seven to 14, eat a snack and socialize a bit with friends. Then the students who are not enrolled in arts classes go to the homework room where several tutors, including the basketball players, are stationed to assist them.

    After helping students finish their homework, which can be in a variety of subjects including math and reading, the players often talk with the kids and sometimes play board games with them.

    Ashe, who has always enjoyed tutoring his peers even back in high school, says the board games help to motivate the students to follow through and finish up their homework.

    Thirteen year-old Elijah always wants to finish his homework, he says, because that means Gonzalez-Kreisberg will tell him a story afterwards.

    “One time, Gabe told me how he touched the court at an Orlando Magic game!” shouts Elijah.

    During every tutoring session, Wesleyan’s basketball players agree that the students always seem to get excited about their schoolwork.

    “I think one reason why is that we’re such a close group of guys that are all genuinely happy to help out,” says Ashe.

    Gonzalez-Kreisberg says another reason why is because he and his teammates act as mentors for the students.

    “Because we play a sport and because these students are impressed by the NBA, it allows us to connect directly to them,” says Gonzalez-Kreisberg.

    “We try to always stress to them that we are just people who happen to play basketball and that we’re strong in our academics first, then in athletics,” he says.

    Despite heavy academic and athletic schedules, both Ashe and Gonzalez-Kreisberg, and other players, like sophomore Nick Pelletier from Amherst, New Hampshire, are committed to continue tutoring at Green Street. Even Coach McDowell has committed to spend some time tutoring at the Center before the year is out.

    “Having the team volunteer during Winter break was a tremendous help as we are often left with no student volunteers until classes resume in late January,” says Ricardo Morris, Director of the Green Street Arts Center. “It was also especially nice to have so many male volunteers. I hope the basketball team and other males will consider volunteering at Green Street more often.”

    “This is such a positive experience for us as individuals and as a team,” says Ashe. “Hopefully it will continue long after we have all graduated from Wesleyan.”

    For more information about how to become a Green Street Arts Center volunteer, please contact volunteer coordinator Lauren Tinkoff at ltinkoff@wesleyan.edu or visit www.greenstreetartscenter.org.

     
    By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations