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Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Los Angeles Times“As the World Warms, Deadly and Disfiguring Tropical Diseases Are Inching Their Way Toward the U.S.”

In this op-ed, Professor of Biology Frederick Cohan and Isaac Klimasmith ’20, both in the College of the Environment, write that infectious disease is a growing threat, resulting from climate change, that humans may find hard to ignore. Cohan is also professor, environmental studies and professor, integrative sciences.

2. Hartford Courant: “Trump’s Immoral Response to Climate Report”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, writes in this op-ed that it is “irresponsible” and “immoral” to ignore the findings of a major new report on climate change. Delaying action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be increasingly damaging and expensive, he writes. Yohe is also professor of economics and professor, environmental studies, and was a reviewer on the new National Climate Assessment.

Recent Alumni News

  1. The Takeaway; WNYC Studios: “Politics with Amy Walter: Pentagon’s First-Ever Audit Exposes Massive Accounting Fraud”

David Lindorff ’71, the investigative journalist who wrote an exclusive on the topic for The Nation, joins Walter’s guests—including Staff Sergeant Patricia King, Ambassador Eric Edelman, and Dr. Isaiah Wilson III, a retired Army colonel and senior lecturer with Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs—to discuss military spending and its alignment with the military’s strategic goals.

Posse Vet Snashall ’21 Proposes Higher Education Policy

Gabriel Snashall ’21 Gabriel Snashall ’21

Gabriel Snashall ’21

Gabriel Snashall ’21 is a Posse veteran studying government and the author of a policy proposal that aims to introduce consumer transparency to the college application process. Similar to a dealership’s sheet on a car window that lists mileage and crash test ratings, Snashall designed a simple form that breaks down the important data on an institution that incoming students should know but often don’t, such as accreditation status and post-grad job placement rates. The proposal earned Snashall a fellowship with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Student Veterans of America joint legislative group, which later garnered him support from Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty.

Snashall discovered the need for better policy after leaving the navy and going back to school in 2016. The year before coming to Wesleyan, he enrolled in two schools in his hometown of Fresno, California: a local community college and the University of Phoenix (a for-profit college). Thanks to military benefits, schools can pay student veterans a basic allowance for housing (BAH). The average BAH rate in Fresno was $1,200 a month, but University of Phoenix offered him $3,500. Snashall attended class one evening a week, and in return was able to pay off his mom’s mortgage. “I didn’t really put much effort into University of Phoenix because it was just like a source of income,” said Snashall “but I got to see some things that I was just shocked at. The education they were providing.”

Zinser ’16 Receives Prestigious Schwarzman Scholar Award

Sophie Zinser ’16 has been selected for membership in the Schwarzman Scholars Class of 2020, located at Schwarzman College in Tsinghua University, where she will study China’s growing influence on foreign aid.

Sophie Zinser ’16, deputy director of Syria Direct in Amman, has been selected as a Schwarzman Scholar, one of the world’s most prestigious graduate fellowships, located at Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This Schwarzman Class of 2020 is only the fourth in the program’s history, with 147 Schwarzman Scholars selected from over 2,800 applicants. The class is comprised of students from 38 countries and 119 universities, with 40 percent originating from the United States, 20 percent from China, and 40 percent from the rest of the world. The Class of 2020 will enroll in August 2019.

In a press release announcing the news, Stephen A. Schwarzman, cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Blackstone, and chairman of Schwarzman Scholars, said, “Our newest class includes a diverse group of future leaders from around the world. They join a global network of Scholars who have committed themselves to being a force for change, regardless of where their professional or personal passions take them. My hope is that a year in Beijing will inspire and challenge these students in ways they haven’t even imagined. I look forward to seeing how this new class will leave its mark.”

At Wesleyan, Zinser double-majored in the College of Letters and French studies. She cofounded the Wesleyan Refugee Project, and following graduation, Zinser worked on a congressional campaign in Minnesota and in international development with the International Rescue Committee’s Emergency Team in New York. Last year on a Fulbright scholarship to Jordan, she led innovative research on safety risks to rural and refugee women. In her current role with Syria Direct, she manages a team of Syrian and foreign journalists in Amman and leads the media nonprofit’s expansion. At Schwarzman College, Zinser will study China’s growing influence on foreign aid.

Thornton Leaves Lasting Legacy of Student of Color Recruitment

Since joining Wesleyan in 1985, Thornton has been instrumental in establishing and leading the University’s historic commitment to a diverse and academically elite student body, a defining feature of the Wesleyan experience. As he wraps up his final fall semester, Thornton took time to sit down in his office across Foss Hill and reflect on his accomplishments, Wesleyan’s future, and some of his fondest memories.

Since joining Wesleyan in 1985, Cliff Thornton, associate dean of admission at Wesleyan has been instrumental in establishing and leading the University’s historic commitment to a diverse and academically elite student body, a defining feature of the Wesleyan experience. Having served Wesleyan—now for more than 30 years, Thornton recently announced that he will retire at the end of the Spring 2019 semester. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

To listen to Cliff Thornton speak with prospective students and parents is to feel included, even if you’re eavesdropping.

Thornton is associate dean of admission at Wesleyan, covering a wide geographic and socioeconomic range: the South Central U.S. from Kentucky to Louisiana, Manhattan, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean. Having served these communities—and Wesleyan—now for more than 30 years, it makes sense that he would demonstrate an ease and fluency in his relations with so many different people from such different backgrounds. He’s had a lot of practice.

But something unique about Thornton, which by many accounts has been true from the beginning of his time at Wesleyan, is how his holistic approach impacts students. To hear him tell it:

“Alumni will often start out by saying to me, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I graduated from Wesleyan in 1995….’ And I always remember them. That’s why I’ve continued to do this work. I’ve had the privilege to witness their growth and success,” Thornton said.

“Working in admission is good in two ways. First, it’s great to be in an educational environment and to believe in the mission. Second, if practiced correctly, it’s a lot like teaching. It might surprise some to hear this, but at the end of the day I don’t consider it my job to make sure a student comes to Wesleyan. My job is to help them make an informed decision. Particularly with underrepresented populations, this is a big challenge. As Dr. Cornel West has said of the African American community: What we often suffer from is a poverty of information. That’s a driving force for me—making sure students have the right information to make such a crucial decision.”

This approach bears itself out in Thornton’s work on a daily basis. In a recent information session with a large group of prospective students and parents, he was clear that the session should be a conversation. Hearing and helping the group talk through their questions and concerns was as important as presenting to them. Fifteen minutes in, students and parents alike were openly talking about their college search experiences (good and bad), and were responding to and assisting one another. Thornton and senior interviewer Shana Laski ’19 served more as facilitators than lecturers. By the session’s end, the prospective group left informed and enthused—well-educated on what Wesleyan had to offer, and clearer about what they wanted and had to offer in turn.

Thornton’s unique understanding and approach at least partially derives from his own educational background. Prior to joining Wesleyan in 1985, he was an adjunct professor and actively considering a PhD. While dating someone who was already enrolled in a doctorate program, he was exposed to the “torturous path” of attaining that terminal degree, and was bumped from his adjunct role by another professor with a PhD.

“I lost my taste for wanting to be a professor,” he said.

16 Seniors Elected to Phi Beta Kappa

Wesleyan President Michael Roth (pictured in the back row, blue shirt) congratulated 16 seniors on their induction into Phi Beta Kappa on Dec. 5. The students are, from left, Julianna Harwood, Sarah Padgett, Anna Shen Knes, Maria Rodriguez-Castro, Theo Prachyathipsakul, Anna Apostolidis, Alison Biester, Alexa Strauss, Zachariah Foster, Emma Austin, Isabel Steckel, Paul Franceschi, Shane Ross, Michael Yablong, and Lily Martin Gould. (Han Yang Tay is not pictured.)

Sixteen students from the Class of 2019 were elected to early decision membership in Wesleyan University’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Fall 2018. They were honored during an induction ceremony and reception Dec. 5 at the Office of Admission.

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 or above. 

Wesleyan Media Project in The Conversation: The Big Lessons of Political Advertising in 2018

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of The Wesleyan Media Project.

Erika Franklin Fowler is codirector of The Wesleyan Media Project.

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler and her codirectors on the Wesleyan Media Project, Michael Franz of Bowdoin College and Travis Ridout of Washington State University, write about the big takeaways of political advertising in the 2018 midterm elections. The Wesleyan Media Project tracks, analyzes, and reports on campaign advertising—both television and digital—in federal races in real time during elections. 

The big lessons of political advertising in 2018

The 2018 midterm elections are in the books, the winners have been declared and the 30-second attack ads are – finally – over.

As codirectors of the Wesleyan Media Project, which has tracked and analyzed campaign advertising since 2010, we spend a lot of time assessing trends in the volume and content of political advertising.

Because we have television data that span a number of elections, we can provide detailed information on how prominent TV ads are overall or in any given location, how many different types of sponsors are active and how the content of advertising compares to prior election cycles.

Of course, television is not the only medium through which campaigns attempt to reach voters. But online advertising, which represents the biggest growth market, has been much harder to track.

Prior to May of 2018, for instance, social media giants like Google and Facebook did not release any information at all on political advertising, so tracking online advertising began in earnest only this cycle.

Wesleyan Publishes Sustainability Action Plan Progress Report

Wesleyan’s 750 kW-AC ground-mounted solar photovoltaic system produces approximately 1.2 million kilowatt hours of clean renewable energy each year amounting to about five percent of Wesleyan’s annual electric consumption. The solar farm is one of 62 projects highlighted in the newly released Sustainability Action Plan Progress Report, which features sustainable accomplishments on campus.

Wesleyan’s Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), developed in 2016, is a five-year plan that reflects Wesleyan’s commitment to a sustainable future. Written with input from more than 130 students, faculty, and staff, the plan establishes goals, objectives, strategies, timelines, metrics, and responsible parties in topic areas.

In November, Wesleyan’s Sustainability Office released its first Sustainability Action Plan Progress Report, This report highlights progress made toward SAP strategies between 2016 and 2018 in the areas of planning, engagement, health and well-being, academic operations, curriculum, buildings, dining, energy, grounds, purchasing, transportation, waste, and water. The report also outlines Wesleyan’s vision for 2021 and summarizes overall progress.

“The Wesleyan community should be extremely proud of what sustainability measures we’ve accomplished in only two years,” said Jen Kleindienst, sustainability director. “The Progress Report highlights our success and it’s meant to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments that contribute to a more sustainable campus.”

Several Wesleyan employees use small containers to collect garbage. The "mini bins" encourage recycling and reduce the number of trash can liners used on campus.

Several Wesleyan employees use small containers to collect garbage. The “mini bins” encourage recycling and reduce the number of trash can liners used on campus.

Some of the report’s highlights are below.

Since 2016:

  • Campus has received new recycling and trash signage developed and installed in every building.
  • An employee survey was conducted on current and potential use of carpooling, public transportation, and parking in order to identify target areas for emission reduction.
  • Waste Not collected approximately 22,000 pounds of donations and raised $5,000 for nonprofits.
  • Mowing heights are raised in non-athletic fields in spring and summer to decrease mowing frequency and fuel expenditure.
  • The third floor of North College completed the Green Office Certification and earned a silver certificate.
  • The Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship (SAGES) developed a mission statement and gained 15 new members.
  • Food rescue and composting efforts helped divert 111 tons of food waste through donations and composting.
  • A sustainability priority statement was included as a core competency for all staff job postings.
  • Grounds began designing a plan to pilot 100 percent organic lawn care practices in recreationally used fields.
  • A building sustainability policy was developed to reduce Wesleyan’s carbon footprint.
  • Compost interns ran waste and composting intervention events in campus dining areas.
  • Veg Out Tuesdays occur every other Tuesday and reduce meat consumption.
  • More than 250 trees have been planted (since 2014)
  • A newly-installed solar photovoltaic system, or solar farm, reduces reliance on natural gas.
  • A Freecycle listserv gained 52 members in 2018 and continues to grow. More than 50 percent of trades are successful.
  • The Sustainability Office held two Clean Plate Challenges in Usdan in February and April of 2018 aimed at reducing food waste and conducted food waste audits.
  • Flu shots, screenings, and fitness classes were offered to Wesleyan employees with over 800 participants.

Kleindienst points out that sustainability is not an end goal, but an ongoing process.

“We wouldn’t be here without the hard work of Wesleyan staff, faculty, and students who have taken innumerable steps to get us to this point,” Kleindienst said. “I’m excited for the next three years and beyond!”

View the entire report online here. More information on sustainability at Wesleyan is online here.

Students Partner with Physical Plant Employees to Learn Inner Workings of Campus

Pictured in the back row, from left: Sammy Osmond, Lilley Gallagher, David Malone, Tom Macri, Gaelin Kingston, Joseph Dorrer, Pictured in the middle row, from left: Dean Canalia, Camille Britton, Tamara Rivera, and Mia McKinney. Pictured in the front row, from left: Gretchen LaMotte '18 and Allison Orr.

Pictured in the back row, from left: Sammy Osmond ’22; Lilley Gallagher ’22; David Malone, HVAC/utility mechanic; Tom Macri, HVAC shop foreperson; Gaelin Kingston ’22; Joseph Dorrer, energy manager. Pictured in the middle row, from left: Dean Canalia, plumbing shop foreperson; Camille Britton ’20; Tamara Rivera ’21; and Mia McKinney ’22. Pictured in the front row, from left: Gretchen LaMotte ’18 and Allison Orr, Distinguished Fellow in the College of the Environment. Missing from photo are material handlers Mario Torres and Kristopher Patterson.

Six students in the Introduction to Environmental Studies course traded their notebooks, backpacks, and pens for wrenches, electronic temperature control meters, and even plungers as part of a special project involving staff from Wesleyan’s Physical Plant.

Throughout the fall semester, the students partnered up with an electrician, a plumber, material handlers, temperature control mechanics, and others to learn about trades and to form friendships with the staff who keep Wesleyan running behind the scenes. On Nov. 29 the students presented their experiences—through talks, performances, music, and graphics—to fellow classmates and Physical Plant staff.

Public Safety, Greek Life Stuff a Cruiser to Benefit Local Children in Need

Wesleyan Public Safety Sgt. Kathy Burdick and dispatcher Val Walker collect toy donations from the Wesleyan community during the office’s inaugural Stuff a Cruiser event Dec. 4.

Wesleyan Public Safety and Greek Life hosted a Stuff a Cruiser event Dec. 3–7 at Usdan’s Huss Courtyard and Dec. 8 at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore. The University partnered with the Middletown Fire Department by collecting donations to benefit local children in need during the holidays and throughout the year.

Several members of Psi Upsilon also helped staff the event and Bon Appétit Management Co. provided free coffee vouchers for anyone who made a donation.

“The Wesleyan community has been so generous during our Stuff a Cruiser event,” said Sgt. Kathy Burdick. “We ‘ve collected many toys and cash donations, and we look forward to doing this again next year.”

As a result of the donations, which filled three Public Safety cruisers, Wesleyan will be helping 12 families provide gifts for their children this Christmas.

Public Safety also is collecting donations (including wrapping paper) at the office located at 208 High Street. (Photos by Alexa Jablonski ’22)

Students Perform at 45th Annual Worlds of Dance Concert

Students who are enrolled in Introduction to Dance, Bharata Natyam I, and Jazz Technique performed during the 45th annual Worlds of Dance Concert Dec. 2 in Crowell Concert Hall.

Introduction to Dance covers the basic components of dance technique—stretching, strengthening, aligning the body, and developing coordination in the execution of rhythmic movement patterns. Through improvisation, composition, and performing, students develop a solid framework applicable to all forms of dance. The class is taught by Katja Kolcio, chair and associate professor of dance; associate professor, environmental studies; and associate professor, Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies.

Bharata Natyam I: Introduction of South Indian Classical Dance is designed to introduce students to the fundamental aesthetic, social, and technical principles underscoring the culture of Bharata Natyam dance in both its indigenous and modern contexts. The course introduces students to Bharata Natyam largely through classroom practice (in the form of rhythmic and interpretive exercises), supplemented by brief lectures outlining the sociohistorical and cultural contexts of the form. The class is taught by Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance and associate professor, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies.

Jazz Technique is an introduction to the African American jazz dance vernacular. Students learn about alignment, centering, and technique through the context of jazz’s African roots. Class sessions consist of movement exploration including a comprehensive warm-up and online discussions and media to better understand the place of jazz dance in society and culture at large. The class is taught by Joya Powell, visiting assistant professor of dance.

Photos of the concert are below: (Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

 

Smolkin Discusses Her New Book on the History of Soviet Atheism at Brother’s Accompanying Art Exhibit

Artist Vlad Smolkin; gallery curator Linda Pinn; Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin; book talk organizer Ellen Nodelman, and congregation member George Amarant gather at the Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn., where siblings Vlad and Victoria shared their recent work. (Photo by Deborah Rutty)

On Nov. 11, Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history and Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies, joined forces with her brother, artist Vlad Smolkin, to share their work with the public at a new and revamped Main Street Gallery Art Opening/Books & Bagels Talk at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn.

Smolkin is the author of a new book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, published by Princeton University Press in 2018. A scholar of Communism, the Cold War, and atheism and religion in Russia and the former Soviet Union, Smolkin’s expertise also covers religious politics and secularism and the Soviet space program.

In A Sacred Space Is Never Empty, Smolkin explores the meaning of atheism for religious life, for Communist ideology, and for Soviet politics. When the Bolsheviks set out to build a new world in the wake of the Russian Revolution, they expected religion to die off. Soviet power used a variety of tools—from education to propaganda to terror—to turn its vision of a Communist world without religion into reality. Yet even with its monopoly on ideology and power, the Soviet Communist Party never succeeded in creating an atheist society.

The book presents the first history of Soviet atheism from the 1917 revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews with those who were on the front lines of Communist ideological campaigns, Smolkin argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. Smolkin shows how atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology with its own set of positive beliefs, practices, and spiritual commitments. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev—in a stunning and unexpected reversal—abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

Victoria Smolkin discusses her new book at the art exhibition.

Victoria Smolkin discusses her new book at the art exhibition.

During the event, Victoria discussed her new book while Vlad debuted his art exhibition, Light Beams. The Smolkins were born in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States and at a young age; through their experiences, each sibling found a distinct way to explore, highlight, and celebrate their heritage.

Like Victoria’s book, Vlad’s art also showcases the themes of religion and outer space. His exhibition envisions how Judaism might exist on other planets. In his work, he looks at how the Western Wall might be transferred to Mars, and how the cultivation of flowers on Mars might be the last vestige of Jewish humanity.

Light Beams by Vlad Smolkin can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday during December and the first three weeks of January 2019.

Vlad Smolkin, titled "Transfer of the Western Wall," 2018

“Transfer of the Western Wall” (2018) by Vlad Smolkin.

 

Shapiro Featured in Poetry Magazine Better Than Starbucks!

Norman Shapiro, professor of french.

Norman Shapiro

Four poems, translated by Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation and Poet in Residence Norman Shapiro, appear in the November 2018 Vol. III edition of the international esoteric journal, Better Than Starbucks!. This poetry magazine is edited by American poet and translator Michael Burch.

The poem below, titled “You …” is translated from the French of Cécile Périn and appeared in The Gentle Genius of Cécile Périn. (Copyright © 2016 by Norman Shapiro and Black Widow Press.)

You …

When you were but the merest tot,
Babbling in cowering awkwardness,
When you were only fresh-begot,
Flesh of my flesh, I loved you less …
What are you now? I scarce know what.

You are Yourself, not part of me:
So little mine, the soul within,
I cannot pierce your mystery!
Be beautiful, be good! Yes, be
Everything I could not have been.

I placed my desperate hopes upon
Your childhood … Light of heart, as then,
Joys will be born anew, anon,
As when you gave them birth. Though gone
Life holds them fast, to come again …

You are this, you are that … Ah yes …
You are our fruit of twofold race,
Who, with each step, bear off, caress
Against your breast, a bit of space.
You are this, you are that … Ah yes …

―Yet you are You, no more, no less.

View all of Shapiro’s poems published in Better than Starbucks here.

Shapiro also is a member of the Academy of American Poets, and Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la République Française.