Olivia Drake

Thomas’s Science Paper Examines Earth’s Oxygen Levels over Geological Time

Ellen Thomas

Throughout time, rising oceanic and atmospheric oxygen levels have been crucial to the habitability of environments at the surface of the Earth.

“The Earth had no free oxygen gas in its atmosphere early on,” said Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences. “The oxygen has been provided over time by photosynthesis of algae followed by storage of organic matter in rocks.”

Thomas, who also is research professor of earth and environmental sciences, examines the timing of oxygen formation in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans over geological time in a study published in the May 2018 issue of Science.

The paper, titled “Late Inception of a Resiliently Oxygenated Upper Ocean,” stems from a multiyear, multinational, multiauthor research effort that explores the time trend and causes of increased oxygenation during the current Phanerozoic Eon, which began more than 542 million years ago. Thomas and her colleagues used iodine geochemistry to determine that the upper section of the ocean became rich in oxygen much later than previously predicted, linked to evolution of oceanic phytoplankton.

The research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant at Wesleyan and coauthored by scientists at Syracuse University and the University of California, Riverside.

The study also is featured in the May 2018 issue of Science Daily and Phys.org.

Robinson Lab Coauthors Study on Compulsive, Drug Addiction Behaviors

Mike Robinson studies how individuals react differently when presented with a junk food diet.

Mike Robinson

Drug and behavioral addictions like gambling are characterized by an intense and focused pursuit of a single reward above other healthier endeavors. Pursuit of the addictive reward is often compulsively sought despite adverse consequences.

In a newly published study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences explored how our decisions can become narrowly focused onto one particular choice. He and his research team used laser light (optogenetics) to activate the central portion of the brain’s amygdala (CeA), an area normally known for its role in generating responses to drug-related and fearful stimuli.

The study, titled “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. Robinson Lab members Rebecca Tom ’16, MA ’17, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and current graduate student Charlotte Freeland coauthored the article and participated in the study.

11 Faculty Promoted, 3 Receive Tenure

Roger Grant, associate professor of music; Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychology. and Marcela Oteíza, associate professor of dance received tenure, effective July 1.

Roger Grant, associate professor of music; Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychology; and Marcela Oteíza, associate professor of theater, recently received tenure.

In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure to three faculty members, effective July 1: Roger Grant, associate professor of music; Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychology; and Marcela Oteíza, associate professor of theater. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, eight faculty members are being promoted: Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice in earth and environmental sciences; Erik Grimmer-Solem, professor of history; Katherine Kuenzli, professor of art history; Joyce Ann Powzyk, associate professor of the practice in biology; Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, professor of psychology; Charles Sanislow, professor of psychology; Patrick Tynan, adjunct professor of physical education; and Tiphanie Yanique, professor of English.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Kim Diver
Diver is an expert in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) whose research focuses on island biogeography. She promotes the use of GIS and other geospatial data analysis and visualization across the curriculum by providing GIS consulting to faculty, as well as a WesGIS workshop series. She has partnered with many local community groups to offer a GIS Service-Learning Laboratory course that allows students to apply GIS concepts and skills to solve tangible problems in the surrounding community. In addition to this service-learning lab, she offers courses on Introduction to (Geo)Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization; Introduction to GIS; and Advanced GIS and Spatial Analysis.

Baerman, Stanton Receive Artist Fellowship Awards

Noah Baerman

Nicole Stanton

Two Wesleyan faculty were honored for their artistic excellence by the 2018 Artist Fellowship Program.

Nicole Stanton, associate professor of dance, African American studies, and environmental studies, and Noah Baerman, director of the Wesleyan Jazz Ensemble, each received a $3,000 grant in the program’s Performing Arts category.

The Artist Fellowship Program recognizes individual Connecticut artists in a variety of disciplines and allows these artists the opportunity to pursue new works of art and to achieve specific creative and career goals. The program is highly competitive: for the 2018 round, more than 235 applications were received and reviewed by 48 professional panelists representing a wide array of artistic disciplines.

Baerman and Stanton are among 39 artists in the state of Connecticut awarded Artist Fellowship Grants.

Stanton will use her Artist Fellowship to work on a movement-based performance tentatively called “The Welcome Table.”

“I’m interested in using the lens of food—its preparation, its cultivation, and the ways in which people, families, and communities consume and dispose of it—as a way of telling black women’s stories,” she explained. “I want to explore the ways questions of food justice, social justice, and environmental justice all interweave in women’s lives.”

Stanton already presented a version of the piece at the We Create Festival: Celebrating Women in the Arts in Boston in April (pictured), and she’s working towards a campus showing for the fall semester.

Baerman will use his award to seed the development and recording of a recent body of work in response to the loss of Claire Randall ’12, who was murdered in December 2016. Randall was Baerman’s student and subsequently became a collaborator both in music and in the work of Resonant Motion, Inc. (RMI), a nonprofit Baerman directs that addresses the intersection of music and positive change.

“After Claire was murdered, I began composing to process both my own grief and that of others bereaved by the loss, many of them also former students of mine at Wesleyan,” Baerman said. “The music was diverse enough stylistically that I couldn’t initially see how it might eventually come together, nor was that a short-term priority. Now I intend to take space to develop this music and eventually compile it into an album that embraces this eclecticism and the emotional rawness of the subject matter.”

The album will, in turn, serve as a benefit for Claire’s Continuum, an initiative that RMI is developing to commission new collaborations on music and interdisciplinary work that addresses social causes.

Hüwel’s Book Examines the Physics, Technology of Timekeeping

Lutz Hüwel, professor of physics, is the author of the book Of Clocks and Time, published by Morgan & Claypool Publishers in April 2018.

According to Hüwel, Of Clocks and Time takes readers on a five-stop journey through the physics and technology—and occasional bits of applications and history—of timekeeping. He offers conceptual vistas and qualitative images, along with equations, quantitative relations, and rigorous definitions.

The book includes discussion of the rhythms produced by the motion of sun, moon, planets, and stars, a summary of historical theoretical insights that are still influential today, examination of the tools that allow us to measure time, as well as explanations of radioactive dating and Einstein’s theories of relativity.

The book is available for downloading and for Kindle.

Krishnan Debuts Choreography at UC Davis, Jacob’s Pillow

"16 Shades of Red,

Hari Krishnan performs in “16 Shades of Red.”

“16 Shades of Red,” a full-length choreography created by Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance, premiered at the Mondavi Center at the University of California, Davis, on May 12 and 13. Krishnan is a member of inDANCE, one of Canada’s most progressive dance companies. “16 Shades of Red,” presented in two chapters, integrates original courtesan dance from South India, complex choreography, and live music.

At Wesleyan, Krishnan teaches Bharata Natyam, or South Indian classical dance.

“BN1 and BN3 students had performed material this semester at Wesleyan so incredibly well, and it was a crucial layer to building this new work,” Krishnan said. “I truly appreciate my job at Wesleyan where pedagogy and choreography are inextricably intertwined.”

In addition, Krishnan will be a Pillow Scholar-in-Residence June 20–24 at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Mass. On June 22, he will debut his solo choreography “Black Box 3,” which showcases virtuosic Bharatanatyam technique. The work features complex footwork, intricate gestures, architectural design, and a pulsating sound design of Indian, global percussion, and vocalized drum syllables.

Krishnan will offer a talkback following the performance.

Students Elected to Phi Beta Kappa

Seventy-eight members of the Class of 2018 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society.

On May 26, 78 members of the Class of 2018 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society. The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. He or she also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations, and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, founded in December 1776 by five students who attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The emblem contains the three Greek letters “Phi-Beta-Kappa,” which are the initials of the Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes. This essentially means “the love of wisdom is the guide of life.”

The spring 2018 inductees are:

Ryan Adler-Levine, Rachel Alpert, Dakota An, Vera Benkoil, Nicole Boyd, Kerry Brew, Chloe Briskin, Hailey Broughton-Jones, Maxwell Burke Cembalest, Steven Le Chen, Taylor Chin, So Young Chung, Danielle Cohen, Darci Collins, Theresa Counts, Isabelle Csete, Emmet Daly, Joshua Davidoff, Rocco Davino, Nicole DelGaudio, Max Distler, Luisa Donovan, Rhea Drozdenko, Dasha Dubinsky, Rebecca Eder, Sara Eismont, and Julia Gordon.

Also Chris Gortmaker*, Jack Guenther, Kenneth Sabin Hecht, Brandon Ho, Mariel Hohmann, Josephine Jenks, Melissa Joskow, Joanna Korpanty, Gretchen LaMotte, Julia Lejeune, Ariana Lewis, Aryeh Lieber, Anran Liu, Caroline Qingyuan Liu, Maya Lopez-Ichikawa, Christine Mathew, Maile McCann, Louis Medina, Joel Michaels, Eva Moskowitz, Emily Murphy, Andrew Olivieri, Paul Partridge, and Joanna Paul.

7 Students Graduate with MA Degrees from Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance

On May 27, seven students graduated with a Master of Arts in Performance Curation through the Center for the Arts Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP).

Since being introduced as a pilot initiative in 2011, ICPP has graduated 16 students from the ICPP Master’s program (including this year’s class). ICPP encourages emerging curators to enrich their understanding of intellectually rigorous, innovative, and artist-centered curatorial models. Through a low-residency model, ICPP asks its students to not only engage with ideas but also to simultaneously put those ideas into practice in their professional lives, developing responsive curatorial practices that address the interdisciplinary nature of performance work today.

The mix of ICPP instructors—artists, scholars, curators, cultural leaders, writers, and theorists—is intended to spark new possibilities and connections both intellectually and professionally. Instructors provide theoretical and practical tools for students to deepen their research methodologies through reading, writing, viewings, and discussion.

The degree recipients include Michèle Steinwald ’13, Ellina Kevorkian, Ali Rosa-Salas, Brian Hyunsuk Lee ’13, Katrina De Wees, Rachel Scandling, and Michelle Daly. Steinwald and Kevorkian were unable to attend the commencement ceremony.

Following the 186th Commencement ceremony, the recent alumni gathered for a reception with their friends and family at the Center for the Arts. Photos of the event are below: (Photos by Tom Dzimian)

Dombrowski, Saaka, Taylor Receive Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching

President Michael Roth with Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching honorees Lisa Dombrowski ’92 and Erika Taylor. Honoree Iddrisu Saaka is not pictured.

During Wesleyan’s 186th commencement ceremony on May 27, Wesleyan presented outstanding teachers with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, as well as current juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year, Wesleyan honored the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:

Lisa Dombrowski
Lisa Dombrowski ’92, associate professor of film studies, has been a member of Wesleyan’s faculty since 2001. She teaches in the College of Film and the Moving Image and is a core member of the College of East Asian Studies. She earned her BA in film studies and American studies at Wesleyan in 1992 and went on to receive an MA and PhD in film studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dombrowski is the author of The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You! and the editor of Kazan Revisited. She has written for The New York Times, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Film History, and the Criterion Collection, among others. Her research is concerned with the art and business of cinema, especially post-WWII film form and modes of production. Her teaching focuses on film history, the industry, and aesthetics in international art cinema, East Asian cinema, American independent cinema, and melodrama and the woman’s picture. Dombrowski is currently completing a book on director, screenwriter, and producer Robert Altman and American independent cinema in the 1990s and 2000s.

Iddrisu Saaka

Iddrisu Saaka (Photo by Perceptions Photography)

Iddrisu Saaka (unable to attend the ceremony)
Iddrisu “Iddi” Saaka, artist-in-residence in dance, has taught at Wesleyan since 2008. He earned a diploma in dance from the University of Ghana and an MFA in dance from UCLA. A dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer from Ghana, West Africa, Saaka has choreographed and performed at the World Festival of Sacred Music, the International Festival of Masks, the Skirball Center, Royce Hall, the Fowler Museum, Dance Arts Academy, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, El Portal Forum Theatre, and the Music Center in Los Angeles. At Wesleyan, he teaches courses in West African dance and also directs the West African Drumming and Dance Concert at the end of each semester. He has served as a visiting instructor of dance at UCLA, University of California San Diego, and the University of Ghana.

Erika Taylor
Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, environmental studies, and integrative sciences, joined the Wesleyan faculty in 2007. She holds a BS in chemistry with honors from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was also a postdoctoral research associate at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Throughout her career, Taylor has worked at the interface of chemistry and biology where she strives to find ways to exploit enzymes found in nature to perform chemistry that can help advance the fields of chemistry and medicine. She also employs chemical synthesis to help answer questions of both biological and medical interest. At Wesleyan, her research has focused on the identification and characterization of enzymes that are important for the development of antimicrobials for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infections—particularly bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli and V. cholerae. She also studies enzymes that can improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion, particularly the breakdown and bacterial utilization of lignin. She teaches courses in the areas of organic chemistry, biochemistry, environmental chemistry, and biomedicinal chemistry, among others.

View previous Binswanger recipients online here.

Commencement to Take Place on Andrus Field as Planned

Wesleyan’s 186th Commencement ceremony on May 27 will take place outside on Andrus Field, as planned. Our best advice is to come prepared for cool, wet weather conditions, and bring along an umbrella.

A reminder that rain or shine the Commencement ceremony will be simulcast in the Memorial Chapel, Patricelli ’92 Theater, Ring Family Performing Arts Hall and Tishler Lecture Hall (150 Exley Science Center). The ceremony will also be available to view on the website wescast.wesleyan.edu.

For additional information about Commencement, please see here.

Students Perform West African, Hip-Hop, South Indian Dances


On May 11, the West African Dance and West African Music and Culture classes performed at the Center for the Arts Courtyard. The invigorating performances featured Wesleyan Artist-in-Residence and choreographer Iddi Saaka, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music and master drummer John Dankwa, and master drummer Mohammed Alidu. Throughout the semester, students learned the fundamental principles and aesthetics of West African dance through learning to embody basic movement vocabulary and selected traditional dances from Ghana. Photos of the performance are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Students Honored with Academic Scholarships, Fellowships, Prizes

Xhonia Robinson ’18 won the Jessup Prize; Shardonay Pagett ’18 won the Butterfield Prize, Heideman Award. and the Senior Legacy Award; Owen Christoph ’18 won the Jessup Prize; Caroline Liu ’18 won the Carol B. Ohmann Memorial Prize

Xhonia Robinson ’18 won the Jessup Prize; Shardonay Pagett ’18 won the Butterfield Prize, the Heideman Award, and the Senior Legacy Award; Owen Christoph ’18 won the Jessup Prize; and Caroline Liu ’18 won the Carol B. Ohmann Memorial Prize during a prize reception for students May 9 in Daniel Family Commons.

On May 9, more than 300 Wesleyan students received University prizes and awards during a reception. The honors, which include scholarships, fellowships, and leadership prizes, are granted to students and student organizations based on criteria established for each prize or award. Certain University prizes are administered by the Student Affairs/Deans’ Office, while others are administered by the Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD).

In addition, SALD hosted a Leadership Awards Banquet in Beckham Hall on April 27.

SALD hosted a Leadership Awards Banquet in Beckham Hall on April 27.

In addition, SALD hosted a Leadership Awards Banquet in Beckham Hall on April 27.

Wesleyan University’s awards, prizes, and scholarships program connects recipients to the legacies of alumni, administrators, faculty, and friends whose lives and work are honored through endowed gifts. Recipients of academic scholarships, fellowships, and prizes represent the highest ideals of Wesleyan University—intellectual curiosity, academic excellence, creative expression, leadership, and service. While celebrating these recipients of awards, prizes, and scholarships, we also honor and thank alumni and friends for their generous contributions and gifts.

The awards and recipients are listed below: (Photos by Rich Marinelli)

George H. Acheson and Grass Foundation Prize in Neuroscience

Established in 1992 by a gift from the Grass Foundation, this prize is awarded to an outstanding undergraduate in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program who demonstrates excellence in the program and who also shows promise for future contributions in the field of neuroscience.

  • Lila Levinson ’18
  • Carli Poisson ’18
ohn Vasant ’18 won the Trench Prize; Charlotte Pitts ’18 won the Alumni Prize in the History of Art

John Vansant ’18 won the Trench Prize and Charlotte Pitts ’18 won the Alumni Prize in the History of Art.

Alumni Prize in the History of Art

Established by Wesleyan alumni and awarded to a senior who has demonstrated special aptitude in the history of art and who has made a substantive contribution to the major.

  • Nicole Boyd ’18
  • Lily Landau ’18
  • Charlotte Pitts ’18

American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry

Awarded for excellence in analytical chemistry.

  • Maya Marshall ’18

American Chemical Society Connecticut Valley Section Award

Awarded for outstanding achievement to a graduating chemistry major.

  • Aaron Stone ’18

American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award in Inorganic Chemistry

Awarded to an undergraduate student in inorganic chemistry to recognize achievement and encourage further study in the field.

  • David Solti ’18

American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award in Organic Chemistry

Awarded to a senior who has displayed a significant aptitude for organic chemistry

  • Theo Prachyathipsakul ’19