Olivia Drake

49 Fellows Present Research during Hughes Poster Session

At left, Hughes Associate, Mellon Fellow and Earth and Environmental Sciences Major Maya Gomes ’06 discusses her research with interested onlookers during the 17th annual Hughes Summer Research Program Poster Session Aug. 5. Gomes’ poster was titled “Understanding the Genesis of Jarosite in Qualibou Caldera, Saint Lucia as an Analogue for Mars.”
Posted 08/17/05
Chimpanzee studies, eating behaviors, mice brains and even sperm banks were topics of research presented at the 17th annual Hughes Summer Research Program Poster Session Aug. 5 at the Exley Science Center.

After 10 weeks of intense research, 49 Hughes Fellows presented their projects. Hughes Fellows are supported by the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The fellows worked one-on-one with Wesleyan faculty advisors.

Students presented a wide array of projects. Matthew Donne ‘07 presented his work on “Hedgehog Signaling and Blood Vessel Development.” Owen Kiely ’06 presented research on “Uncovering the Timetable for Functional Incorporation of New Neurons in the Adult Brain.” And Alexandra Ogrodnik ’06 presented her research titled “Gypsy Moths, Invaders vs. Local Caterpillars.”

For the students presenting, the program gave them a variety of research opportunities that would’ve been difficult to replicate during the school year.

“What I liked about this most was that it gave me a lot of field experience that I otherwise would never have had,” says Daniel Silva ’07. “It really showed us how different the field could be from laboratory conditions.”

Silva and Ulyana Sorokopoud ’08, both Hughes Fellows, presented the poster “”Metapopulation Analyses of Freshwater Fishes and Macrovertebrates: Ecosystem Assessment of the Matabesset and Eight Mile River Water Sheds.”

“Doing this work in the field was really eye-opening,” says Sorokopoud. “For example, we took multiple times samples over a month. During that period we could see a number of changes that took place in the habitat, some subtle, some not so subtle. But they were nothing we would’ve seen under lab conditions.”

For Hughes Fellow Jenna Gopilan ’07, who presented “The Effects of Serotonin on Adult Neurogenesis in the Dentale Gyrus of DNA Pkcs Mice,” the experience was all about lab conditions, which was a good thing.

“I was able to devote entire days in the lab and perform more experiments, which helped me generate a lot more useful data,” she says. “I could have never fit that much work in with my class schedule during the semester. Getting a chance to devote full days and weeks to my work in the lab was perfect.”

The poster session was accompanied with laboratory tours and a colloquium. Martha Gilmore, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. Gilmore spoke on “Mars: Wetter than Ever.”

Michael Weir, professor of biology and chair of the Biology Department is the director of the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences. Laurel Appel, visiting associate professor of biology and senior research associate is the program coordinator.

Students applying for the 2006 Hughes Program must do so by March 3, 2006. The grant budget allows for 18 stipends, but with generous contributions from participating departments and faculty, as well as Financial Aid funds, the program can accept between 40 and 50 students each year. Students are responsible for their own housing.

For more information contact Maureen Snow, administrative assistant for the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences, at msnow@wesleyan.edu.

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations

Psychology Department Welcomes New Assistant Professor

Steven Stemler, a new assistant professor of psychology, will teach Psychological Statistics this fall.
Posted 08/17/05
Steve Stemler has joined the Psychology Department as an assistant professor.

In an era of increasing specialization, Stemler says he admires Wesleyan for recognizing the importance of training undergraduate students to value the diversity of knowledge accumulated across different fields of study.

“There is a tremendous value to studying such topics as classical languages, hard sciences, social sciences and the arts simultaneously,” he says. “I believe that a liberal arts education results in a well-rounded person who will be capable of seeing broad perspectives on complex issues without being stuck into the kind of black and white thinking that seems to be increasingly encouraged in today’s society.”

This fall, Stemler will be teaching Psychological Statistics and anticipates teaching other courses on educational psychology, intelligence, the psychology of good and evil and the psychology of conflict resolution.

The Washington State native received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Washington and his master’s of education and Ph.D from Boston College. He completed his postdoctorial research at Yale University.

Before coming to Wesleyan, Stemler was the assistant director of the Yale University Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise (PACE) for more than three years. He also held an appointment with the Framingham State College International Educational Program, a program in which faculty members are sent to various developing countries to teach intensive, two-week courses in their area of specialization. Stemler taught courses in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

Stemler’s research intertwines education and psychology. He studies the purposes of schooling articulated by school mission statements, historical documents, legal court precedent and other sources. His goal is to develop assessments of creativity, wisdom, social and emotional skills that meet the same rigorous standards for testing quality as conventional tests.

He presented a paper titled “Measuring teachers’ practical skills,” at the annual meeting of the International Association of Cognitive Education and Psychology in Durham, England in July; and another paper titled “Practical intelligence and teacher preparation” at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Montreal, Quebec in April.

Stemler lives in Hamden, Conn. with his wife Karen and their two yellow labs, Alex and Jack. He enjoys reading, hiking, swimming, walking the dogs, and spending time with his wife.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Director of the Green Street Arts Center Promotes Creativity in the Classroom

At top, Ricardo Morris, director of the Green Street Arts Center, is developing classes for the center’s fall semester.

At right, Morris enjoys a snack with participants of the Free Lunch Program inside the center in Middletown’s North End.

Posted 08/17/05

When Ricardo Morris taught English in public schools, he refused to let his students simply read “Beowolf.” The class would feast, dance and listen to 10th century music – all before opening the epic narrative.

His unconventional teaching methods, however, weren’t appreciated beyond the classroom.

“I was sent to the principal’s office far more than any of my students,” he says, smiling. “I was always looking for new ways to teach literature, and although the students loved it, the principal didn’t always like my holistic-approach.”

Nowadays, his avant-garde lessons are encouraged and respected. As director of the Green Street Arts Center, Morris constantly invents ways to bring creativity into the classroom.

Via Green Street’s After School Program, Morris immerses youngsters in the visual, media, dramatic and literary arts and music. During the evening, he ensures adults and families express themselves through acting to the latest hip hop moves.  

“Arts are essential to life,” he explains. “We’re not trying to turn our students into artists, but expose them to the arts, and hopefully that will improve the quality of their life. You don’t know what you like until you try it.”

Morris – a musician, dancer, director, teacher and arts administrator  – was brought on to direct the art center just 12 months before its grand opening in January 2005. The center’s location in the heart of the Middletown’s North End was a familiar environment for the Chattanooga, Tennessee native.

“I grew up in a very similar community,” Morris explains. “It was predominately black, underprivileged, distressed and poor. So working here in a similar neighborhood was appealing. I was excited to start something from scratch while helping to revitalize the neighborhood.”

Morris was responsible for the overall look and feel of the center, sponsored by Wesleyan, the City of Middletown and the North End Action Team. He used his knowledge of feng shui along with Centerbrook architects, feng shui consultant Pat McGrath, and Jerry Zinser to develop the center’s practical layout and powerful color scheme. The Arts Café, for example, is painted in cornflower blue to calm children prior to their art lessons. The visual arts studios are neutral-colored and lit with natural sunlight.

“Initially, they were going to have the administration offices up front, but I didn’t want students coming in and seeing offices,” he says from his rear-corner office. “They should see dance and music activity happening. So I suggested we flip the plan, and put the offices back here, hidden away.”

Morris, the oldest of five children, is the first and only member of his family to go to college. After earning his bachelor’s degree in speech and theater from Tennessee State University in 1985, he returned to Chattanooga and taught school for eight years.

During his summers off, Morris attended summer institutes studying theater and writing. And in 1994, he applied at Yale, graduating three years later with a master’s of fine arts in art administration.

While in New Haven as a graduate student, Morris founded the Dwight/Edgewood Project, collaboration between Yale School of Drama students and children in the Dwight/Edgewood neighborhood.  Before accepting his new position at Wesleyan, Morris was the executive director of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and the Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts in Birmingham, Alabama. He also served as director of arts in education for Allied Arts of Chattanooga where he was responsible for the inclusion and promotion of the arts in schools in southeastern Tennessee. 

Pamela Tatge, director of the Center for the Arts, says it took the Green Street Arts Center search committee eight months to find a Green Street director.

“Ricardo is a triple threat: artist, educator and administrator,” Tatge says. “He was the only candidate who had this kind of a varied resume alongside a history of living and working in neighborhoods like the one we have in the North Ends. “He hit the ground running last year and pulled everything together so we could open GSAC this past January. His work at integrating the center into the life of the neighborhood, into Middletown’s arts scene, and into the life of our campus has been exceptional.”

At Green Street, Morris hired an assistant director, Manny Rivera; an administrative assistant, Rachel Roccaberton, several community volunteers, 40 teaching artists and over 50 Wesleyan-students, which work as teaching assistants and tutors.

“North End parents wanted their students to have contact with Wesleyan students,” Morris says. “They believed that the Wesleyan students’ ‘I can accomplish anything’ attitude would rub off on their kids. That they’ll learn that there are no rules to what you can do in life if you work hard.”

Morris often works a 12-hour day. The center opens at 9 a.m. and the community is welcome anytime. This summer at 11:30 a.m., Morris hosts a free lunch program for community children that also introduces them to a variety of arts disciplines . During the regular school year between 3 and 6 p.m., he helps oversee the center’s after-school program, which hosts 7-18-year-olds for visual and applied art, dance, theater, music and film classes. And between 1 and 10 p.m., Morris supervises the adult and family classes and workshops, taught by visiting and Wesleyan artists.

Classes range from line dancing, sound design and digital photography to playwriting, bomba drumming and Vejigante mask making, and much more.

In fact, he has personally helped out by assisting instructors in ballet, modern dance and recorder classes.

During the facility’s first semester, the GSAC had 52 after-school students and 120 adults. Morris’ goal for the upcoming year is to continue spreading the word about Green Street and enroll 90 students in the after-school program and 250 in the adult evening classes.

“Monday through Saturday, we want these classes filled to capacity,” he says.

To stay in tune with the North End and surrounding community, Morris is a member of the North End Action Team, and discusses public safety, housing, police protection and other issues with the community. He has a plot in the community garden, and helps train working artists to become teaching artists.

“It’s important to be visible in the community,” he says. “I want the community to know Green Street has their best interest at heart and they can trust that we’re not going anywhere.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Procurement Specialist is Wesleyan’s Top Negotiator

Olga Bookas, procurement specialist, negotiates prices and purchases mailing equipment, furniture, paint, light bulbs, and even window shades for the university.
Posted 08/17/05
Q: When were you hired in Financial Services as a procurement specialist?

A: I started working at Wesleyan in January 2005.

Q: Please explain what a procurement specialist means.

A: I am responsible for negotiating and developing contracts with vendors. Some of my purchasing duties include processing purchase orders for furniture, lease copiers, cell phones. I also meet with Wesleyan colleagues to determine their purchasing requirements and then I meet with vendors to ensure that they are reliable and can support the university with quality, service and best price.

Q: What do you purchase for the university?

A: Pretty much anything a university employee needs my assistance with! When I first started here, one of my first objectives was to negotiate the office supplies contract. We are very pleased with the results and the huge savings. Other purchases include the centralization and implementation for new Pitney Bowes mailing equipment, furniture, paint, light bulbs, window shades and much more. In addition, I search for new vendors and find creative opportunities on how to save money for the university.

Q: How much money are we talking about?

A: For example, Lisa Davis and I worked as a team and convinced four other departments to centralize all outgoing mail and eliminate the leases for additional meters. Cost savings for the university resulted $60,000 for a five year contract. Mike Conte and I have finalized the elevator agreement. I am currently assisting Peter Staye in negations for the water treatment and oil proposals.

Q: You have 18 years experience in customer service and purchasing. Can you elaborate on your past careers?

A: Although I worked at Superior Electric for 11 years, I believe my career started when I worked for Heublein. I was the international customer service leader selling Smirnoff and other spirits all over the world! I truly believe in customer service. I feel that we need to service our internal and external customers the best and fastest way we can! I gained vast experience on international laws, shipping, exporting goods, and had fun selling some of our best wines to the Army!

Q: How did you come to Wesleyan?

A: My career changed due to Heublein’s downsizing. After taking a year off, I completed my associate’s degree and within a month, I was hired at Associated Spring/Barnes Group as a purchasing assistant. My love to negotiate started to flourish when I started to deal with vendors. My path brought me to Wesleyan where I strongly believe that working together as a team we can achieve huge savings for the university and continue to implement purchasing procedures and processes to make it easier for our internal customers and departments.

Q: Was it a straightforward or challenging transition from the corporate world?

A: I always wanted to work for an educational institution where one can excel and bring new ideas. My experience so far has been rewarding and a little challenging at times. I like challenges because I feel it is a great opportunity to learn and try new things.

Q: Can you fill me in on any new initiatives or projects?

A: We have successfully launched the office supplies project where 95 percent of our employees go to our Web site and place their orders on line. That is a huge time savings!

Q: How do these purchasing skills carry over into your personal life?

A: I do watch prices either at grocery stores or when I purchase items for the house. I do the negotiating. Negotiating for me comes natural.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I obtained an associate’s degree in business management from Tunxis Community College and a bachelor’s of science degree from Saint Joseph’s College.

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

A: I love to walk and listen to Greek music. I have a couple of friends that I go walking with almost every morning at 4:45 a.m. and at night. Also, I like to read a lot. My favorites are mystery and murder novels.

Q: Are you involved in any volunteering activities?

A: I volunteer a lot of my time to my church. I teach the Greek Language to children and adults at my church. The class began with only five children and two adults three years ago and now we have over 30 children and seven adults. I’ve also been president of the Philoptochos Society for 15 years. Philoptochos means “Friend of the Poor.” This women’s organization is the right hand of the Greek Orthodox Church. I also have been one of the Friendly Visitors at the local convalescent homes visiting the elderly once a week.

Q: Would you like to tell me about your family?

A: My husband, Tony, and I have been married for 35 years and live in Bristol. We have two children, George and Angela and a dog named Liza. Our son and his wife, Renee, also live in Bristol. Angela lives in our apartment upstairs. We feel blessed that our family lives so close because all our extended relatives are back in Athens, Greece.

Q: Greece. So that would explain your accent.

A: Yes. My coworkers tell me that I have a cute Greek accent. My voice is easily recognized.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Planetary Group Discusses NASA, Spaced-Based Achievements

Members of the Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) met at Woodhead Lounge July 20-22. Martha Gilmore, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, (pictured second from left in the first row) coordinated the meeting. 
Posted 08/17/05
Martian oceans, solar system exploration and telescopic studies of Neptune were all topics of discussion during a planetary committee meeting at Wesleyan.The Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) met at Wesleyan’s Woodhead Lounge July 20-22. COMPLEX advises the National Academies’ Space Studies Board on the entire range of planetary system studies that can be conducted from space as well as on ground-based activities in support of space-based efforts.

The 10-member committee assists the board in carrying out studies, monitoring the implementation of strategies, and providing evaluations of programs and strategic priorities for NASA and other government agencies.

Martha Gilmore, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences and COMPLEX member, coordinated the Wesleyan meeting. The committee meets about three times a year in various locations.

“Some of the work we performed in this meeting is to consider some of the consequences of the change to a new NASA administrator and the president’s Vision for Space Exploration on solar system exploration priorities as they were defined by the community prior to these changes,” Gilmore says. “It is anticipated that the group will formulate and participate in studies to address this issue.”

Andrew Dantzler and Douglas McCuistion of NASA Headquarters provided a Mars Exploration Program status report and the status of NASA solar system exploration activities.

In addition, Gilmore spoke about the geology and rocks from the opening of the Atlantic Ocean; James Greenwood, research assistant professor and visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, spoke about geochemistry of a martian ocean; and William Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, chair of the Astronomy Department and director of the Van Vleck Observatory, discussed the circumstellar disk of KH15D.

Members of the board included representatives from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Michigan, University of Texas, University of Arizona, University of Hawaii, University of California, Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University.

For more information on the committee or their projects, visit: http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ssb/complex1.html or http://www.nasa.gov/missions/solarsystem/explore_main.html.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

New Study Will Examine Digital Use at Northeast Liberal Arts Institutions

Posted 08/17/05
A picture may be a worth a thousands words, but what is its value in the college classroom, especially if the picture is digital?

This will be among the issues considered by a new digital image study spearheaded by Wesleyan University and the Center for Educational Technology.

The six-month study will examine how digitized images of all sorts are used by faculty at 34 elite teaching and research institutions. The hope is that by assessing current practices in the classrooms, methods for more effective use of these images can be identified and implemented.

“There is also an opportunity to build a community among these institutions which could lay the groundwork for future collaborations,” says Michael Roy, Wesleyan’s director of Academic Computing Services and the study’s principal investigator. “We are always interested in new and better ways we can use technology to improve teaching and academic inquiry.”

Along with Wesleyan, the institutions participating will include Allegheny, Amherst, Bard, Barnard, Bates, Bennington, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Colby, Colgate, Connecticut, Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg, Hamilton, Haverford, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Middlebury, Mount Holyoke, Princeton, Sarah Lawrence, Skidmore, Smith, St. Lawrence, Swarthmore, Trinity, Ursinus, Vassar, Wellesley, Wheaton, Williams and Yale.

The project has engaged David Green of Knowledge Culture to lead the survey and site visit process. Green’s Web site is http://www.knowledgeculture.com/index.html.

The study is being funded by a grant from the Wesleyan Fund for Innovation and is co-sponsored by the Center for Educational Technology with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The results will be presented in a one-day workshop, published and posted on the Academic Commons Web site at http://www.academiccommons.org.

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations

When Ill, These Caterpillars Acquire a Taste for Medicinal Plants

Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology, discovered that the wolly bear caterpillar, Grammia geneura, ingests medicinal plants when sick.
Posted 08/17/05
When tiger moth caterpillars get a bug, they do what a lot of us do – ingest some medicine and hope it provides a cure.

These findings by co-investigators Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology, and Elizabeth Bernays, regents professor emerita of entomology at the University of Arizona, appear in the July 27 issue of Nature.

During a study of the caterpillars of two types of tiger moths, known as Grammia geneura and Estigmene acrea, Singer and Bernays observed that when the caterpillars were besieged by potentially deadly parasites, they underwent a chemical change that affected their taste sensing cells. The result: the infected caterpillars suddenly acquired a taste for plants that contained compounds – iridoid glycosides and pyrrolizidine alkaloids. When plants containing these compounds are ingested by the caterpillars the parasites die, often before they could inflict mortal harm on the caterpillars from within.

Singer and Bernays noted that the taste for these medicinal components was heightened in the infected caterpillars while remaining unchanged in uninfected caterpillars.

“In essence, contracting the parasites actually triggers a chemical reaction inside the caterpillars that makes them more disposed to eating the very plants that may help them get rid of these deadly organisms,” Singer says. “The parasites are actually setting in motion a process that may lead to their own demise, provided the caterpillars can get to the right type of plants in time.”

Singer adds that this type of chemical “taste change” that gravitates the caterpillars toward medicinal foods has not been observed in other caterpillars, but is likely to occur as in other animals that are known to self-medicate, including some primates.

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations

The Wesleyan Connection: Campus Snapshot

THE CAGE, CAGED: An 8-foot chain link fence surrounds the old Alumni Athletic Building, also known as the ‘Cage,’ to mark the construction zone for the new Suzanne Lemberg Usdan University Center, which is expected to be completed in August 2007. Parts of the gym are being renovated and incorporated into the new facility.

Only construction personnel are allowed into the fenced-off construction zone surrounding the old Alumni Athletic Building and Fayerweather Gymnasium. A new gravel access road will line this fence for foot traffic, handicap, emergency, service and construction vehicles only.
South College is receiving an interior and belfry renovation this month. Stairwells are being repainted and the building’s front entrance is closed.
Scaffolding surrounds the front side of South College as staff from Physical Plant work on replacing the belfry’s roof and exterior railings. In August, eight new bells will be installed to the current 16-bell array. This will upgrade the status of the Wesleyan bells from a chime (10-22 bells) to that of a carillon (23 or more). (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

Assistant Professor Joins Earth and Environmental Sciences Department

Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, studies fossilized plants and plant physiology. He started at Wesleyan July 1.
Posted 07/13/05
Dana Royer has joined the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department as an assistant professor on July 1.His professional interests include global change; paleoclimatology, paleoecology, carbon cycles, paleobotany; plant physiology and stable isotope geochemistry.

“I study fossil plants in order to infer something about the paleoclimates in which they lived, as well as their paleoecologies,” he says. “I also study modern systems to learn more about the biological basis of these plant-environment relationships.”

After spending a semester studying wildlife ecology and conservation at the School for International Training in Arusha, Tanzania, Royer double majored geology and environmental studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He received a Ph.D in geology from Yale University. His thesis is titled “Estimating Latest Cretaceous and Tertiary Atmospheric CO2 from Stomatal Indices,” and is based on fossil leaves that infer ancient CO2 levels back to 66 million years ago.

Before coming to Wesleyan, Royer worked as a research associate in the Department of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and as a visiting research associate at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, in The United Kingdom.

This fall, Royer will teach Geobiology and Introduction to Environmental Studies in the fall and Global Warming in the spring.

Royer says he’s most impressed by the energy in the E&ES Department, and Wesleyan’s solid reputation with research.

“I like the dual l emphasis on undergraduate teaching and cutting-edge research here at Wesleyan,” he says. “Most academic institutions make some claim to this, but Wesleyan delivers on both fronts better than any other institution that I know.”

Royer says the students also make Wesleyan an appealing institution to work.

“I was blown away by the students during my interview,” he says. “When I talk to my colleagues about Wesleyan, invariably the first point that they raise is the quality of the student body.”

Royer is the co-author of “Correlations of climate and plant ecology to leaf size and shape: potential proxies for the fossil record,” published in The American Journal of Botany, 92: 1141-1151, 2005; “Contrasting seasonal patterns of carbon gain in evergreen and deciduous trees of ancient polar forests,” published in Paleobiology, 31: 141-150, 2005; and “CO2 as a primary driver of Phanerozoic climate change,” published in GSA Today, 14(3): 4-10, 2004.

He received an $80,000 grant from the Petroleum Research Fund, American Chemical Society in 2004 for his research on “Why do leaves have teeth? Breakthroughs in paleoclimate analysis from biological understanding of leaf shape.” The grant expires in 2006.

Royer resides in Middletown with his wife, Jenny, a plant ecologist. They have a 2-year-old son, Cole, and two “lazy” cats. For fun, he participates in endurance sports including marathons, ultramarathons and bicycling.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Director of Leadership Gifts Encourages Other Alumni to Keep on Giving

Paul DiSanto, director of leadership gifts, builds strong programs for the 25th and 50th reunions.
Posted 07/13/05

During his fifth-year reunion, 1981 Wesleyan alumnus Paul DiSanto realized the importance of pledging annual gifts to the university.

“I feel the type of education Wesleyan offers is important, and can only continue with support from future generations,” he says.

DiSanto has pledged an annual gift every year since. As Wesleyan’s director of leadership gifts, DiSanto has also encouraged several thousand other alumni to give to their alma mater.

DiSanto works with a number of top donors and helps build strong programs for the two most prominent reunions each year, the 25th and 50th.

“I’m focusing on raising as much money as we can from those classes, but also on ensuring that these milestone reunions are a great experience, and bringing the alumni back, or closer, to Wesleyan,” he says.

DiSanto and Frantz Williams ’99, associate director of leadership giving, work closely with their colleagues in Major Gifts, Planned Giving, the Annual Fund and Alumni Programs to coordinate an efficient and effective reunion program. They touch on everything from the class books and class photos to class dinners, which DiSanto anticipates will lead to a big reunion class gift.

“During the reunion, many alumni take the opportunity to really think more seriously about their giving, and make their biggest gifts at this time,” DiSanto says.

Williams describes his colleague as a “walking database.”

“Paul can really connect with people on a personal level,” Williams says. “If someone mentions where he’s from, his children, cousins or dogs, Paul will remember that, and having that kind of connection makes him a very powerful fund-raiser.”

DiSanto spends a good deal of time at his 318 High Street office communicating with alumni via phone and email. Much of this involves recruiting reunion volunteers and strategizing with colleagues about issues and programs.

During his 19 years at Wesleyan, DiSanto has worked under three presidents, two acting presidents, four vice presidents for University Relations and two acting vice presidents. He started as the director of alumni programs and outreached to alumni and local clubs.

“I’ve seen a great amount of change here,” he says.

DiSanto also played a significant a role in the recently completed $281 million Wesleyan Campaign. During this five-year span, he held several positions including director of regional major gifts, director of the Wesleyan Annual Fund and director of major gifts and reunion fundraising. His job title changed to director of leadership gifts in June.

During the campaign, he traveled to cities nation-wide, most recently to New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and cities within Connecticut. During these visits, he made contact with alumni and parents, and encouraged them to be supportive of Wesleyan. 

“It was rewarding that the work I have done during my time at Wesleyan resulted in some of the major gifts to the Wesleyan Campaign,” he says.

DiSanto says the key to being successful in the fund-raising field is having common sense and the drive to work hard. He aims to listen and build trust with individuals.

Aside from fund-raising, DiSanto works out at the Freeman Athletic Center three times a week, plays golf, reads and enjoys following world and national events. 

He and his wife, Lynne, spend ample time with their sons Greg, 13, and Alex, 10. DiSanto is their baseball, basketball and soccer coach and volunteers at their schools and church.

The family also roots on the Boston Red Sox.

“I’ve been to a Red Sox game every year since ’65, and don’t plan on having the streak end,” he says. “Sure was great to see them win it all last year.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Project Manager Oversees Construction, Cares for the Seriously Ill

Rosann Sillasen examines laminate flooring before installing it in the 200 Church Street house for students.
Posted 07/13/05
Roseann Sillasen knows how to take care of a bowing floor or sagging ceiling. She’s also pretty good at helping treat pneumonia, intestinal bleeding and other major ailments.

Sillasen, the associate director and project manager of Wesleyan’s Construction Services, is also a practicing registered nurse. The full-time project manager and part-time nurse says the two occupations are a perfect match.

“Both careers involve working with people and critical thinking,” she says. “They create a balance.”

Not that balance equals easy. Being that this is July, Sillasen is mid-way through a hectic schedule of projects. Most of these need to be completed by the third week in August – the week students begin to return to campus.

“There are lots of projects that we need to get done while the students are on summer break,” she says, examining new floor laminate for the 200 Church Street freshman residence hall.

Along with the renovations at 200 Church, Sillasen’s to-do list for the summer includes repairs to Science Center classroom 339; the Center for the Art’s Jones Room renovation, art workshop cabinetry, exterior lighting and cinema lighting; the Davison Art Center’s and Center for African American Studies Americans with Disabilities entrance ramps, Olin Library’s interior and exterior painting and elevator modernization; the Van Vleck Observatory’s interior dome painting; Shanklin Labaratory’s window replacement; Foss Hill’s steam manhole maintenance; and the William Street Highrise exterior renovation.

Her most time consuming project is managing the renovation of the Center for the Arts Art Workshop. Construction Services is morphing the first floor into a technology hub for the CFA. Ultimately, the hub will house a digital classroom, media lab, editing rooms and a new drawing studio.

Barbara Spalding, project manager of Construction Services, says her co-worker possesses a wide range of technical knowledge on every aspect of construction. Spalding says Sillasen has the ability to talk to senior staff, coworkers, architects, engineers and contractors — and get her message across.

“She is the original multi-tasker, which you have to be to be a good project manager, and she really loves what she does,” Spalding says. “I have no idea how she does it, but she does more work than is humanly possible. She is super organized, has a mind like a steel trap, and has endless energy.”

A typical summer day begins at 7 a.m., when Sillasen visits each construction zone, unlocking doors and overlooking each work site.

Later, she stops by her office at 186 College Street to check voice and e-mails, review schematics, respond to priority calls, develop bid documents for new projects and attend project meetings.

“In Construction Services, we are mindful stewards in the management of new construction, renovation and major maintenance of buildings and infrastructure on campus,” she says. “We work with clients to address their need and incorporate them as best as possible into projects.”

While her attention to construction projects consumes her work week, every other weekend she focuses on people with serious medical conditions.

Sillasen works two weekends a month at the John Dempsey Hospital, part of the University of Connecticut’s Health Center in Farmington. She works on a floor with eight monitored cardiac beds and helps those suffering from pneumonia, intestinal bleeding, immunosuppressed conditions, cardiac monitoring, stroke, renal failure, peritoneal dialysis and end of life care.

”Nursing is both rewarding and challenging,” she says. “I am a part of my patients’ lives at a time that is extremely difficult for them, providing comfort, support and advocacy. It’s not just medical care that makes them feel better, it’s the personal attention and care I give them.”

It is Sillasens fifth year in nursing.

Joyce Topshe, assistant vice president for Facilities, worked with Sillasen 13 years ago at the University of Connecticut Health Center. When the position opened at Wesleyan, Topshe persuaded Sillasen to apply. Sillasen came to Wesleyan in 2001 as the associate director in construction services for renovation and new construction projects

“Roseann’s work ethic is second to none, and I am so glad to have her here at Wesleyan,” Topshe says. “She is incredibly talented, motivated and reliable. She is doing a tremendous job leading our major maintenance program and a variety of other key projects.”

Sillasen learned the construction trade after gaining hands-on experience at an architect’s office as an administrative assistant in 1984. There, she was involved in the coordination of all phases of the construction process from negotiating contract fees with civil, mechanical and electrical consultants, to approving site plans. She learned how to prepare condominium and bid documents, calculate building square footage, review shop drawings and attended several site meetings.

At Wesleyan, she’s involved in many of the same processes.

“I’m never bored,” she says. “I enjoy working in construction. Everyday you have the opportunity to learn a new approach to an issue that may arise in the field.”

Sillasen says she never feels awkward working in what once was a male-dominated field. She works among several women in the construction field including Joyce Topshe, assistant vice president for facilities; Stacy Baldwin, construction project assistant; Barbara Spalding, associate director of construction services and project manager; Brandi Hood, senior project coordinator; Bev Hugee, facilities manager for student life facilities; Amy Regan, a maintenance and repair mechanic; and Kim Krueger, a painter.

Alena Staron, Joyce Heidorn, and Abby Chaplin support the physical plant offices. And budget accounting and finance coordinator Claire Schukoske, customer service manager Chris Cruz and department assistant Donna Steinback ensure all work orders are processed.

“Women in the field have become more common. You get what you give,” she says. “I am treated professionally and with respect. I have high expectations that are reasonable and the people I work with know I expect them to be met.”

She also sets high expectations for herself. Although she juggles two jobs, Sillasen makes time to continue her education through Wesleyan’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program.

She’s four classes short of the degree.

“Learning is a life long process,” says Sillasen. “When you stop learning, you stop growing.”

Sillasen also is an avid volunteer. As an Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) mentor, she works with high school students in Hartford to expose them to the inner workings of these fields. She also is the treasurer of the Connecticut Nurses Association, a member of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and a member of the building committee for the Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity, leading a crew for the Habitat Whittier House in East Hampton last year.

In addition, she’s a member of her alumni association and assists with its newsletter. She’s also a member of the Oncology Nursing Society, the American Cancer Society Power Over Pain, Iota Upsilon Chapter Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and the Alpha Chi Honor Society.

And with any time left, Sillasen enjoys bird watching, watching science fiction movies and spending time with her husband, John, and her three grown children and four grandchildren between the ages of 12- and 15-weeks-old.

“I really do enjoy being busy,” she says, grinning.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Press and Marketing Coordinator Promotes Center for the Arts Events

Lex Leifheit, press and marketing coordinator for the Center for the Arts, stands inside the Zilka Gallery. Leifheit works to increase media coverage for the CFA.
Posted 07/13/05
Q: Your position as press and marketing coordinator is fairly new. How long have you been at Wesleyan?

A: I have been here a little over a year, since March 2004. I showed up on a Saturday during one of the CFA’s annual season highlights, DanceMasters Weekend, and immediately started taking photographs. It was a great introduction to the constant activity of the CFA.

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

A: From 2001 to 2004, I was the communications director at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford. I also directed and produced numerous plays and arts events in downtown New London, Connecticut, including the Hygienic Cabaret and a performance art series designed to increase awareness about local issues.

Q: What are your degrees in and from where?

A: I have a BFA from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and a Certificate of Study from the Moscow Art Theater. Right now, I’m taking classes through Wesleyan’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program.

Q: How would you describe your role in the Center for the Arts? In a nutshell, what are your objectives?

A: The CFA is always looking for ways to let more people know about our events. My job is to increase media coverage and make the CFA easily accessible to the communities it serves, within the university and throughout the region.

Q: When you started at the CFA, how were performances advertised, and how has that changed with you being here?

A: One of the most noticeable changes is increased press coverage. There are a lot more photos popping up in regional newspapers and magazines, and the New Haven Advocate recently declared our 2005-06 dance programming the “best and most diverse” in the state. Of course, none of this would be effective if we didn’t actually have great programming by students, faculty and guest artists. I also do a lot of targeted marketing, for example advertising our Outside the Box Theater events in the Hartford Stage programs or sending flyers about our jazz events to jazz festivals in the region. It’s time-consuming but worth it—once people find their way here they tend to come back again and again.

Q: Who generally attends the CFA performances?

A: Plenty of people come to the CFA from well beyond Middletown—we have recently had an increase in attendees from Fairfield County but Hartford and New Haven area residents are also quite familiar with the CFA. It is hard to estimate who comes to our many free events, but for the ticketed series events the breakdown is approximately 54 percent Wesleyan students, 40 percent community members and 6 percent faculty and staff.

Q: What’s your favorite part about working in the CFA?

A: I feel very lucky to work at something I really believe in—helping people discover things about themselves, their community, and other cultures through the arts.

Q: Do you attend many of the CFA events? What have been some of your favorites?

A: I am very excited about our upcoming theater season—The Neo-Futurists, Sarah Jones and the SITI Company—all artists I would drive an hour to see without thinking twice. One of my favorite performances last year was Music Professor Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room. He performed in the midst of a Sol Lewitt installation in Zilkha Gallery. It was very magical to hear that historic work with people filling every corner of the space.

Q: What are other hobbies or interests of yours?

A: Last month, I moved into the North End Artist Cooperative on Main Street, so my main “hobby” has been getting to know my new neighbors! I also enjoy swimming at Miller’s Pond and have, surprisingly, run into some Wesleyan folks there.

Q: Does your family live around here too?

A: My family moves around a lot. Currently they are in Kansas. Here, it’s just me and my cat, Stella.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor