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The Wesleyan Connection: Campus Snapshot

DAY FOR GRADUATES: Yonatan Malin, assistant professor of music; Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology; and Eric Aaron, assistant professor of computer science and mathematics, speak to Ph.D candidates at a workshop titled Tenure Track Tango during Graduate Career Day Jan. 23 in Exley Science Center. The day-long program offered advice to graduate students on how to prepare for a career after Wesleyan.
Michael Sciola, director of the Career Resource Center, speaks on job searching and networking.
From left, graduate students Hiram Navarrete Ramirez, music; Daniel Bravo Vivallo, mathematics; and Elikem Nyamuame, music, gather during the Graduate Career Day reception.
Chemistry graduate students Ericka Barnes, left, and Andrea Minei mingle with Frank Stellabotte, a graduate student in biology. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

Roundtable Meetings Promote Conversation, Sharing of Resources


Mike Sciola, standing, director of Wesleyan’s Career Resource Center, speaks during an Academic (Technology) Roundtable meeting Feb. 8.
Posted 02/16/07
Intellectual property issues, using visual images in the classroom and rock and roll memories are all upcoming topics for the Academic (Technology) Roundtable.

The weekly roundtable meetings aim to promote conversation, cooperation, and the sharing of information and resources among Wesleyan’s faculty and staff.

“This is an informal way for faculty, librarians and staff members to get together and talk about technologies, academic issues and student life,” explains Andy Szegedy-Maszak, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, the Jane A. Seney professor of Greek and chair of the Classical Studies Department and roundtable moderator.

During the Feb. 8 meeting, some 40 guests came to hear a talk by Mike Sciola, director of Wesleyan’s Career Resource Center. After a presentation on learning styles of “The Millennials,” or the students born after 1988, more than a dozen participants chimed in with questions or stories pertaining to the topic of the day.

Like “The Millennials,” not all topics are entirely technology-focused. The Academic (Technology) Roundtable, which is abbreviated as A(T)R shifted gears about four years ago when Szegedy-Maszak and Michael Roy, director of Academic Computing Services and Digital Projects, took charge of coordinating the meetings.

Rather than discussing technology only, they began welcoming a wide variety of other subjects such as university services, grading practices, publishing in academic journals, and students’ mental health. Most presentations are by Wesleyan staff or faculty members, along with some outside speakers.

“That’s why we put the ‘T’ in parentheses now,” Szegedy-Maszak says. “Although we still include technological topics, our subjects are broader to appeal to faculty and staff with different interests.”

Future A(T)R topics vary. On Feb. 22, Don Moon, dean of the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs and the John E. Andrus Professor of Government, will lead a discussion on public speaking, which has been identified by Wesleyan faculty as one of the academic “essential capabilities.” On March 1, James Neal, vice president for Information Services at Columbia University, will speak on intellectual property issues within higher education; March 5, David Green will speak on a National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education report on visual images in the classroom. Other upcoming topics and presenters can be found at: http://www.wesleyan.edu/atr.

Roy and Szegedy-Maszak encourage the Wesleyan community to suggest a topic of interest, nominate a presenter or volunteer to make a presentation via its Web site at http://www.wesleyan.edu/atr/suggestions.html.

“A(T)R is really the best-kept secret on campus,” says Barbara Jones, the Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian and regular meeting-attendee. “It’s a wonderful resource for our library staff, and it’s a great place to meet new colleagues.”

Sponsors of A(T)R include The Center for Faculty Career Development, Olin Library and Information Technology Services. Meetings take place at noon most Mondays and Thursdays in Olin Library’s Develin Room. Buffet lunch is served and any member of Wesleyan’s faculty and staff is welcome to attend.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Committee Lists Impacts of New Computer Cluster


Posted 02/16/07
Members of the Wesleyan Cluster Computing Committee have listed the impacts on research from the newly-installed computer cluster.

The Cluster Computing Committee members are Eric Aaron, assistant professor of computer science; David Beveridge, the University Professor of the Science and Mathematics; Tsampikos Kottos, assistant professor pf physics; George Petersson, professor of chemistry; and Francis Starr, assistant professor of physics.

The committee is supported by the Information Technology Services staff, who made commitments of space, personnel resources, and developed an upgrade program so that the facility does not become rapidly obsolete.

ITS staff involved include Henk Meij, applications technology specialist; Jolee West, academic computing manager; James Taft, assistant director of technology support services and Ganesan Ravishanker, associate vice president for Information Technology Services.

Among other abilities, the cluster will enable the following:

1. Faculty can produce new science in diverse research projects, including the structure and formation of galaxies, molecular dynamics of proteins, elucidating activity patterns in cortical circuits, DNAs and protein DNA recognition, methods developments and applications in molecular quantum mechanics, complex quantum dynamics and mesoscopic transport phenomena, computer simulations of the clustering of nanoparticles and studies of the assembly and properties of soft materials.

2. Distributed resources currently are maintained by individual faculty who aim to have enough computing resources to meet their peak needs. As a result, computational resources sit idle during non-peak usage periods. A shared facility would allow users to take advantage of computing time that would otherwise go wasted, meaning that the total aggregate computing resources needed not be as large as if they are distributed.

3. A central computing facility and internal computing workshops would provide an environment to bring together researchers from different areas of the sciences and foster collaborative activities. The current distributed model does not encourage collaboration.

4. A centralized cluster facilitates the present computational research and lowers the barrier to initiate new computational projects, permitting faculty and students quicker involvement with projects and the ability to more-easily explore new approaches to their research.

5. Removing the burden of maintaining computational facilities from faculty members will free them to focus on the effective use of resources to strengthen research and educational activities. Moreover, access to such facilities is vital to maintain the competitiveness with larger universities.

6. The cluster serves as a learning tool to develop student scientific computing proficiency both through existing courses and though assisting faculty with research. Such training is invaluable to prepare students for the expanding field of information technology.

7. Computational facilities quickly become obsolete with the furious pace of technological development. Often, individual faculty are not able to keep up with the pace of innovation lacking either the time needed to stay informed about the latest innovations or funds necessary to buy them (or both). Wesleyan’s ITS is committed to the maintenance and regular upgrading of facilities once they are in place. This is a truly major matching commitment and provides a longevity, continuity and stability to research computing that is currently missing in the current model of distributed resources.

8. Six faculty research groups involving postdoctoral research associates, graduate students and undergraduate students pursuing honors thesis research comprise the primary cadre of users of the cluster. Nine additional groups are expected to be involved in significant but smaller scale computer-related research initiatives, as well as a number of inter-group collaborations and projects. In total, there will be roughly 50 regular users of this facility. A centralized cluster computer introduces a new era to the quality and inclusiveness of computationally intensive research at Wesleyan, affecting both faculty programs and the undergraduate and graduate students involve in those programs. Overall, this revision in Wesleyan’s institutional strategy towards information technology fits naturally within the university’s mission of achieving excellence in undergraduate education via the effective integration of teaching and scholarship.

Biophysics Journal Club Encourages Active Learning, Student Teaching


Andrew Moreno, a graduate student in chemistry, teaches a lesson on probability to his peers during a Molecular Biophysics Journal Club class Feb. 7.
Posted 02/16/07
Alicia Every, a graduate student in chemistry, went to class last week not only to learn, but to teach.

She and the other 20 students taking the course, Molecular Biophysics Journal Club II, are expected to prepare a lesson on relevant course material and present a micro-lecture to their peers.

For 20 minutes she spoke, jotting equations on the chalkboard while explaining that heat is in random motion. She drew a gas molecule inside a box, and talked about its behavior at the molecular level, relating it to macroscopic systems such as in proteins and nucleic acids.

“What makes Journal Club different from a typical lecture is that we have some degree of freedom in our discussions,” Every says. “This allows us to not only focus on one particular topic, but to digress to other related topics that the class might feel necessary to cover in more detail. In a way, this allows the students to have control over the lecture.”

The Biophysics Journal Club is open to graduate and undergraduate students, and may be taken repetitively. Enrollment is unlimited, although it’s geared most closely for majors from chemistry and molecular biology and biochemistry. The program will soon include a bioinformatics track in conjunction with the Center for Integrative Genomics and the Biology Department, and students from any Natural Sciences and Mathematics department are welcome.

Faculty participants in the Molecular Biophysics Program attend the class meetings and offer input when necessary; at least one faculty member is always present to lead the class.

“The idea of Journal Club is for students to learn about the cutting edge of science in this area outside of their own research project. This also provides students experience with discussion of diverse subject in the area, and to get some teaching experience by preparing short lectures and giving them to each other and the faculty,” explains one of the class instructor David Beveridge, the University Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and co-coordinator with Ishiuta Mukerji of the program. “Club is not quite the right word but is the local parlance for this kind of thing – a skull session, workshop, brainstorming session. Faculty serve as a resource and offer appropriate feedback. We are aware that various degrees of experience and language capabilities are in the mix so we expect to keep the class atmosphere friendly and constructive for students.”

Molecular Biophysics Journal Club II is a non-exclusive companion to Molecular Biophysics Journal Club I, which is held Fall Semester 2006. Biophysics Journal Club I is not a precursor to Journal Club II; each course has a different focus. In Journal Club I students lead active discussions of a series of current research articles in the field of molecular biophysics and biophysical chemistry. They read articles from the Biophysical Journal, Biopolymers, Current Opinion in Structural Biology, Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics and the Annual Review of Molecular Biophysics and Biomolecular Structure.

Journal Club II focuses its attention on only one book. This semester it’s Biological Physics by Philip Nelson. This book, Beveridge explains, is highly regarded in the field and emphasizes understanding the principles and applications of biological molecules as molecular machines. Each student prepares their presentation based on one chapter, or part of a chapter, from the Nelson text.

“It will possibly take us two semesters to get through the whole book,” he says. “Students will find that preparing lectures is far more time consuming than they expected.”

The Journal Club is part of Wesleyan’s Biophysics Training Program, which is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an arm of the National Institute of Health (NIH). As part of this grant, the NIH requires that participating students receive ethical and quantitative training on the nature of their interdisciplinary area.

During the class, Andrew Moreno, a graduate student in chemistry, provided a lesson on probability, to relate the distribution of molecules in their physical states to the likelihood of a molecule being in a specific state.

He took Journal Club I last semester to discuss current research that is outside his field of interest. In addition, he hopes improve his teaching ability.

“It is difficult to get in front of your peers and teach, but at the same time, it’s rewarding because they can give you insight on what was good about your lecture and what was bad,” he says.

While some of the students are less comfortable speaking in front of their classmates, it now comes naturally to Every, who has taken the Journal Club for 10 semesters, her entire graduate career.

“It is not difficult as long as you have some idea of your peers’ background knowledge,” she says. “I prefer Journal Club over a standard lecture course because it forces you to be an active learner. We usually spend 15-20 minutes in lecture and the rest is spent discussing or analyzing the topic. This requires you to learn the information as well as analyze and apply it to different systems.”

After graduating with a Ph.D., Every hopes to continue research in biophysics. She is considering a post-doctoral position. Moreno also plans to continue doing research and eventually wants to teach.

“I have not yet decided if I would like to be a professor, but either way, I think it is important that I have some experience teaching because it has trained me to clearly understand different topics as well as be able to put into words what I have learned,” Every says.

The Molecular Biophysics Journal Club is open to the campus community. Meetings are held 1:10 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays in the NSM Conference Room. For more information e-mail David Beveridge, Ishita Mukerji or Manju Hingorani.

Laure Dykas, a Ph.D candidate in chemistry said student guest lectures Andrew and Alicia did “an excellent job” teaching.

“I hope I can do as well,” Dykas says, smiling. “I give my presentation next week!”
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Student’s Photography Accepted into Juried Show


This image by Ben Rowland ’08 will be on display at the Brooklyn Artists Gym Gallery.
Posted 02/16/07
During winter break, Ben Rowland ’08 traveled to Istanbul for a vacation with his cousins. A hobbyist photographer, he took several photographs. One of these has found a place in a New York gallery.

That image, titled, “The Man and the Mosque,” is now part of a group gallery show called: “Look See: Photographs on Reflection” at the Brooklyn Artists Gym (B.A.G) Gallery in Brooklyn. The opening is from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 24.

In “Man and the Mosque” Rowland captured a scene during a late-afternoon prayer time in the mosque. He wasn’t allowed to take photographs, but Rowland decided to capture the moment anyway.

“I put the camera on the floor and shot secretly,” he explains. “I took the shot on very long exposure – 20 seconds I think, and as a result, the lights inside appear as stars, and everything is in focus because of the enormous depth of field. Also because of the long exposure, the viewer can see through the subject, except for at his knees and feet, which were still as he prayed.”

This is Rowland’s first time exhibiting his work in a major art gallery or in a juried show. Applicants were allowed to submit up to three images; however the B.A.G. jurors were extremely selective.

Once in the show, photographers have the option of putting a price tag on their work. Rowland, pictured at right, has already sold prints to parents of Wesleyan students privately, and is hoping to push more sales form his newly-created Web site.

Rowland, who is pursuing a degree from the College of Social Studies, is the photography editor this semester for the Wesleyan Argus. He attends performing art, sports and general campus events, watching them all behind a lens. Several of his Wesleyan photos are posted on his Web site at http://www.benrowlandphotography.com.

He’s also photographed several bands and concerts, scenes from his travels in Istanbul, America, England, France and The Netherlands, and has done artistic portraits.
Incredibly, Rowland has only been a photographer for six months. He learned camera basics through months of constant practice and trial and error in Brooklyn where he lived over the summer.

The artistic ability to see interesting subjects behind the camera, however, comes natural for Rowland. He continues to experiment with different subjects.

“In the past few months I’ve been shooting, I’ve gone through many stages and I’ve watched and analyzed my progression,” he says. “I used to shoot only objects or things, and yet now I’ve moved almost exclusively to using photography as an anthropological tool. I love studying people in their environments.”

Rowland is still exploring what options to take after college, but he already has a few ideas in mind.

“I would enjoying doing work for The New York Times, while still pursuing personal artistic endeavors,” he says. “I would love to photograph a rock band or a war.”

The exhibit “Look See: Photographs on Reflection” will run from February 24 through March 4. BAG Gallery is located on the third floor of 168 7th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
For more information on the gallery visit www.brooklynartistsgym.com.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Part-Time Gym Job Leads to Alumnus’s Career after College


Casey Brown, building supervisor/manager, welcomes people to the Freeman Athletic Center and helps answer any questions they may have.
 
Posted 02/16/07
Q: Casey, what various roles do you have at the Freeman Athletic Center?

A: As a building supervisor/manager, I try to ensure that users of the facility are safe, welcomed, and as content as possible. I try to answer as many questions as possible, and create a friendly environment.

Q: You’re the friendly face that greets everyone when they come into the Freeman Athletic Center during the late afternoon hours. What do you like about this role?

A: You mean the friendly, handsome face, thank you. I enjoy the variety of people I am fortunate to come across everyday. It breaks down stereotypes. Not only that, I enjoy working with the people that I’ve gotten to know, like the student athletes. Some of them are very cool.

Q: You used to be one, yourself?

A: I did play basketball here at Wesleyan in 1996-97.

Q: When were you hired-in?

A:  I was hired in part-time in 1995 while I was an undergrad here at Wesleyan, and went full-time in 1998. I started here as the equipment room assistant, working with Bob Chiapetta, who was the National Equipment Manager of the Year.

Q: What did you study at Wesleyan and when did you graduate?

A: My concentrations were in African-American studies and history. I was living like a rock star on a roadie income, and it was worth every penny. I graduated in 1998 with my bachelor of arts. I wanted to get my master’s too, so I did while I was working here through the Graduate Liberal Studies Program. My concentration was in social studies and I graduated in 2001.

Q: What led you to Wesleyan?

A:  I’m from New York, New York, the metropolis of the world. I spent my first 12 years in Brooklyn and the rest in Queens. I attended New York Public Schools until 10th grade, when I left for Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. I visited Wesleyan twice before attending and felt that is was a good fit for me. Thirteen years later, I am still here.

Q: Has anything changed?

A: Actually, campus is now a lot cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing.

Q: At work, you’ve described your role as “the guy who can help get you what you need.” How so?

A: I’ve been around. I can usually save you time on your search if you just ask. Locations, people, general info, I got you.

Q: Do you know the Freeman Athletic Center building inside and out? Can you give an example of something about the building that no one else may know about? Any secret rooms?

A: I know it pretty well, not as well since the expansion. There is a room rumored to be underneath the deck of the pool. Apparently, you used to be able to set up a camera in there to critique the divers. True? I don’t know.

Q: Do you use the gym? If so, what facilities?

A: Yes, I use the all the facilities except the squash courts. I’m hoping to get out there soon though.

Q: Are you one of those people who live at the gym?

A: No, I don’t live in the gym, but I am here overnights sometimes. That’s another story.

Q: Who are the key people you work with at Freeman?

A: I usually work with Kate Mullen, head coach of women’s basketball; Richard Whitmore, associate athletic director and Bob Chiapetta, manager of intercollegiate operations.

Q: Last question. Red Sox or Yankees?

A: I won’t even dignify such a ridiculous question, or opinion. Boston? They’ve been a joke all my life. Sad really, perennial losers. Even Mets Fans have gotten off on Boston. Did you hear when I said New York is Metropolis of the world, and Gotham too. We are Superman and Batman.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

New Computer Cluster Will Improve Research Campus-Wide


From left, Henk Meij, applications technology specialist; Francis Starr, assistant professor of physics; and James Taft, assistant director of technology support services, look over the newly-installed 10-terabyte computer cluster at Information Technology Services.
Posted 02/16/07
It takes 10, 250-volt plugs to power up. It takes 9,000 BTUs to keep it cool. It can communicate 14 times faster than high-speed internet, and it has the potential to store more than 2.5 million MP3s.

But most important, this state-of-the-art high-performance computer cluster will offer both education and research opportunities for the university on a level which has never before been available. The cluster was installed this month, and will be connected to the entire Wesleyan network.

“This is going to change the way Wesleyan conducts research,” explains Ganesan Ravishanker, associate vice president for Information Technology Services. “This powerful computing cluster will offer advanced hardware and software resources for teaching strategies and research not specific to any one department or discipline.”

The high-performance cluster is made up of 288 central processing units from Dell, Inc. that work together as one machine. The unit has two functions – it can either split one computational task across several different computers for a faster result, or it can process dozens of tasks at one time.

Together, these units offer 10 terabytes of storage, equivalent to 10,000 gigabytes. A typical desktop computer has 150 gigabytes of disk space.

“It takes three to four terabytes to store all the information from the entire campus and this unit alone has 10,” explains Henk Meij, applications technology specialist, who is overseeing the cluster’s operation.

The cluster was funded by a $190,000 National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program grant, awarded in July 2006. The grant proposal was written by Francis Starr, assistant professor of physics; David Beveridge, the University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry; and Katherine Johnston, formerly an assistant professor of astronomy. Each is involved in computationally-intensive research.

In the past five years, four Wesleyan faculty set-up their own clusters. Of these, one is defunct, one is obsolete, and two are saturated and will soon be out of date. Starr, who is currently conducting research through this older, 80-unit cluster, will use the new cluster to benefit his own research on DNA-based nanomaterials and supercooled liquids. Since his work requires computer simulations that focus on molecular dynamics, the new cluster will drastically increase his ability for scientific computation.

“Now I will be able to get 288 answers in the time it would take to get one,” Starr explains, while rotating a visualization of the molecular structure of water on his Mac. “With the new hardware, I’ll be able to explore the assembly of new molecular structures on a much larger scale, helping the development of nanomaterials with customized properties.”

And since the unit will be maintained by ITS, Starr looks forward to spending less time maintaining his current cluster and more time doing research and spending time with students.

The cluster is a central resource so anyone can connect to it from their office or even home. Several Wesleyan faculty in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics have taken interest in the new computing unit, however it is not exclusive to NSM.

Rex Pratt, the Beach Professor of Chemistry, can use the cluster to make models of small molecules that bind to enzymes. Eric Aaron, assistant professor of computer science, can further his research of tumor development and treatment, using massively computation-intensive geometric computation simulations. Mark Flory, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, carries out comparative searches of proteomic data with corresponding sequence databases. Cluster facilities will enable him to greatly expand his studies from small samples analyzed on a single workstation.

Several other faculty researchers will immediately benefit as well.

In addition to faculty use, undergraduate and graduate students will have opportunities to conduct research with these machines. There are already established extramurally-funded research programs at Wesleyan in theoretical astrophysics, liquid state chemical physics, nanotechnology, quantum chemistry, molecular biophysics, and the emerging field of neuroinformatics and structural bioinformatics, all of which depend on high-end computing to be competitive. Courses that involve computers are offered in each of these areas.

“Now, students are limited to the computers at their labs,” Starr explains. “We need to teach students how to get access to the cluster and take advantage of what it can offer. There is no end in sight for what we can do.”

The impacts of the new cluster can be seen at : http://www.wesleyan.edu/newsletter/campus/2007/0207cluster2.html
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Former Professor Nelson Polsby Dies at 72


Posted 02/16/07
Nelson Polsby, renowned political scientist, died on February 6 at the age of 72. Polsby was a member of the Wesleyan faculty from 1961 through 1968, rising meteorically from the rank of assistant professor to full professor.

According to Karl Scheibe, professor emeritus of psychology, “Nelson left an indelible mark on Wesleyan, even though he was only here for seven years.”

Polsby was a prolific author of books and articles and editor of The American Political Science Review, the premier political science journal. Perspectives on Politics noted that Polsby ranked in the top ten of most frequently cited political scientists among those entering the field when he did.

In the early 1980s, Polsby was a visiting professor at the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., a private think tank that specialized in issues of defense policy and disarmament. Wesleyan President Douglas Bennet was the Roosevelt Center’s first president and he and Polsby remained life-long friends.

Nelson Polsby is survived by his wife, Linda, his children, and grandchildren.
 

Photo by Jane Scherr, University of California, Berkley.

Recycling Committee Boosting Efforts Campus-Wide


Used electronics, including computers, can be placed at the Exley Science Center’s loading dock on Pine Street for recycling.
Posted 02/16/07
The Wesleyan Recycling Program is increasing their efforts to make Wesleyan a leader in waste reduction and environmental responsibility.

“Recycling is required by law in Connecticut, and is the obligation of every member of the Wesleyan community,” explains Bill Nelligan, Wesleyan recycling coordinator.

Mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, metal and plastic are already picked up from sites all over campus and from Wesleyan housing. Wesleyan also collects aerosol cans, batteries, CDs, DVDs, floppy disks, cell phones, motor oil, rubber-soled shoes, block or peanut-sized Styrofoam and clean textiles. Computers, monitors and other electronic equipment can be dropped off at Exley Science Center’s loading dock for recycling.

Ink and laser printer cartridges also can be recycled at Wesleyan. The recycling center for these items is located in Exley Science Center’s lobby. They can also be campus-mailed in a plastic bag to Bill Nelligan, Physical Plant, 170 Long Lane.

In addition, the committee has placed a new outdoor bin for bulky scrap metal located behind Physical Plant at 170 Long Lane. They also are working on a drop-off recycling center for compact fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury. These are currently recycled as “universal waste.” Meanwhile, these bulbs can be picked-up by a facilities electrician by calling 685-3400.

The recycling committee wants to assemble a listing of all the Wesleyan Community efforts supporting environmental sustainability. Contact Leslie Starr at lstarr@wesleyan.edu with a brief description or Web link of any projects.

For additional information on recycling, reducing and reusing, visit the http://www.wesleyan.edu/recycling,  or e-mail recycling@wesleyan.edu.

The committee is seeking new members to help their efforts, and is currently creating a new composting sub-committee. Call Bill Nelligan at 685-2771 for more information.

University Relations Web Administrator Creates Sites that Clearly Communicate


Adrian Cooke, Web administrator for University Relations, is working on content for WesNet, the alumni Electronic Portfolio.
 
Posted 02/16/07
The first time Adrian Cooke built a Web site, he used it to share photographs with his family.

As University Relation’s new Web administrator, Cooke now builds Web sites used by thousands of Wesleyan alumni. He oversees all nodes under http://www.wesleyan.edu/alumni/, pages for the Wesleyan Fund, and works with other departments such as ITS and the Office of Public Affairs’ New Media Services on special event pages for Reunion & Commencement and Homecoming/Family Weekend. WesNet, a site designed to facilitate communication among alumni, is also monitored by Cooke.

Cooke’s on-going goal is to improve these online services from a user’s perspective. To help him with that endeavor, University Relations’ Career Resource Center recently conducted a study to see how alumni are using the Web at Wesleyan.

“Right now we are standing back and saying, ‘how could we make this better for our constituency?” Cooke says. “Where are we getting it right and where do we need to stop and listen?’ We know that we have our work cut out for us but we are running with the ball and we’re determined to get it right. From a project planning point of view, Wesleyan is swift and nimble. It is a great place to make things happen.”

Cooke, a native of Brisbane, Australia, came to the United States in 2002 to pursue an interest in sociology. Three years later, he graduated with a master’s degree from Yale University, where he researched indigenous Australian and Native American politics and cultural issues. During and after obtaining his degree, he worked for the Yale Sociology Department, designing the department’s homepage, http://www.yale.edu/sociology; the Center for Cultural Sociology’s site, http://research.yale.edu/ccs; the Sociology Graduate Student site, http://www.yale.edu/sgs, and co-designed a symposium page, http://www.yale.edu/iiss.

Cooke found ways to tie his interests in sociology and Web technologies together. He learned methods to present online content more clearly and systematically, and how to make sites more appealing to different kinds of visitors.

“It turned out that a background in social sciences was helpful in thinking about the way a user interacts with a Web site because as a student I was exposed to a lot of critical thinking about how to present information,” he says. “The social possibilities of the Web always grabbed my attention.”

He brought these interests to Wesleyan in September 2006, where he worked as an assistant for Allynn Wilkinson in Digitization Services. In November and December 2006, he also stood in as a desktop software trainer for Information Technology Services. Just two months ago, he transferred into U.R., reporting to Mark Bailey, director of Development Communications.

“Adrian brings new energy to University Relations,” Bailey says. “His generosity, skills, judgment, and irrepressible good humor are making a real difference in the pace and quality of our Web work. His influence is already manifest in a variety of ideas for alumni content on WesNet, the alumni Electronic Portfolio.”

Cooke says the biggest challenge of his job thus far is learning Wesleyan’s in-house systems. Although he’s very familiar with coding sites, Wesleyan has engineered ways to allow users with little or no knowledge of programming to build Web sites.

“Wesleyan has built a lot of its technology services from the ground up and they are amazingly flexible,” he says. “But although you might know how to build a Web page you can’t just waltz in here and start fiddling with code. Here we have a community of technologists and designers who have evolved their services over many years, adapting to the needs of departments. And that’s doing your job: making it easy for other people to do theirs.”

As the entire Alumni Web Portfolio is being reexamined, Cooke and his colleagues will include new Web tools in these alumni sites. For example, they may implement Webcasts of campus and club events to boost social networking among alumni. In conjunction with ITS they’re also reappraising WesNet’s user interface and evaluating the alumni e-mail service.

Cooke encourages alumni and the wider Wesleyan community to offer their input on alumni Web resources.

“The hardest thing in this job is knowing if you’re accurately responding to people’s needs, or if you’re hitting the mark,” Cooke says. “We are looking at everything with a magnifying glass, and we’ll be selecting features that really improve our offerings to alumni. We want people to say either, ‘Yes, that’s what we’ve been asking for,’ or ‘Wow, I never knew I needed that!’”

Cooke lives in New Haven with his wife, Elena, and a “cranky” ginger tabby named Harvey. He and Elena have worked on several Web sites together, including her personal portfolio site, http://www.convealer.com. Together, they are planning to create a portfolio community site for visual artists.

In addition to the Web, Cooke enjoys writing, photography and movies.

“I’m trying to find out who the Big Lebowski fans are around campus. I’ve discovered two so far,” he says, smiling.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Poet Delivers Keynote Address at Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

 

Civil rights activist Sonia Sanchez speaks during Wesleyan’s Celebration of the Life of Martin Luther King Jr. event Jan. 30 in Memorial Chapel.
Posted 02/01/07
Poet, author and civil rights activist Sonia Sanchez delivered the keynote address during Wesleyan’s Celebration of the Life of Martin Luther King Jr. event Jan. 30. She met King in 1957 and shared excerpts of King’s speeches with an over-flowing audience in Memorial Chapel.

Often in poetic rhythm, Sanchez spoke about her own life and the troubles she and her family faced as being poor, black Americans. She emphasized her years in New York City, and explained her struggle for identity. She talked about her involvement in the Civil Rights movement. She shared her opinions on war and offered advice to the students.

“My brothers, my sisters. This is your century. Demand that this world moves forward in peace,” she said. “This is your country. This is your time. … Learn what it means to walk upright as a human being in the 21st century. What does it mean to be human? You got to ask yourself that question.”

In addition to Sanchez’s talk, Ruby-Beth Buitekant ’09 and Melanye Price, assistant professor of government, offered a reflection; The Roadside Girls (pictured at right) and Ebony Singers provided song, and Kevin Butler, associate dean of Student Services, welcomed the audience.

Following an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Wesleyan Baccalaureate Address June 7, 1964, President Doug Bennet delivered remarks on King Jr.’s history with Wesleyan.

To chronicle King’s visits, Bennet and staff consulted with several people who were part of the King era at Wesleyan and wanted to share their memories. Bennet thanked John Maguire, formerly a professor of religion at Wesleyan and president emeritus of the Claremont Graduate Schools; Willard McRae, an administrator at Middlesex Memorial Hospital, frequent adviser, and guide to Wesleyan students volunteering in Middletown; and Rick Tuttle, ‘62 who was a civil rights volunteer in Mississippi and Georgia in the summer of 1963.

The Wesleyan connection with King began when John Maguire joined the Religion Department at Wesleyan in 1960. As an 18-year-old student in Virginia, Maguire had by chance met and become a close friend of the then-21-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. who was studying at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. During the late 1950’s, King had begun coming to New England to speak and raise money for the civil rights movement. When he arrived at Bradley airport, Maguire, who was by then studying at Yale, would pick him up and drive him to his speaking engagements.

These weren’t King’s first visits to Connecticut. When he was 16, after his first year at Morehouse College, he spent a summer working in the tobacco fields near Hartford. He came north for the good pay and the chance to observe race relations in New England. King later reflected that he was elated to find that he could sit anywhere in a restaurant and order food.

In May, 1961, Maguire and his department chair, David Swift, joined the Freedom Riders. They were jailed briefly in Montgomery, and later met with King. Maguire invited King to preach at Wesleyan, and arranged it so that King’s first visit to campus. On Jan. 14, 1962, King preached to an overflowing chapel. He stayed overnight at the university guesthouse on High Street in order to be available most of the next day to the College of Social Studies students and faculty.

In February of 1963, King preached at Yale’s Battell Chapel in the morning, got a ride from Maguire to his house at 44 Home Avenue, took a brief a nap, then preached again that evening in the Wesleyan chapel.

Early in 1964 President Victor Butterfield asked Professor Maguire to see if King would be willing to be Wesleyan’s end-of-school Baccalaureate preacher and to receive the university’s honorary doctorate degree. King agreed, but said that he had to make it tentative since he was not always sure of his schedule.

Then, on the Monday before he was to arrive for the weekend ceremonies, King went to jail challenging segregation in St. Augustine, Fla. Maguire and King’s chief aide, Andrew Young persuaded King to post bail on Saturday afternoon and fly to Bradley, arriving early Sunday morning.

Following his baccalaureate address, Maguire presented King with his degree and they stood while the crowd gave King a long, standing ovation. As they made their way from the platform back to North College, there was continuous applause. On Monday, King flew back to St. Augustine and reentered jail for another few days.

In 1966, King paid his last visit to Wesleyan, again to preach at McConaughy Hall. The audience overflowed.

The Wesleyan Board of Trustees was meeting on the weekend following King’s death in 1968. President Ted Etherington asked the meeting to adjourn early the morning after the assassination and move to the Chapel where he asked John Maguire to provide an informal eulogy for King.

“The Wesleyan community has continued its commitment to civil rights and justice,” Bennet said. “Poet Sonia Sanchez keynote embodies that tradition.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration received funding from the Office of the Dean of the College, the President’s Office, and the Office of Affirmative Action, with planning and support from a committee of staff, students and faculty.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor and Elan Barnehama, university writer

Pop Culture, Extremists and a Disco Beat at Zilkha Gallery


Robert Boyd’s Xanadu is on display in Zilhka Gallery through March 4.
Posted 02/01/07
A new exhibit at the Ezra and Cecile Zilhka Gallery tweaks, condenses, and re-frames contemporary events into montages of quick cuts, representing a history of apocalyptic thought as a series of MTV-style music videos within a setting reminiscent of a discotheque.

Robert Boyd’s Xanadu is a synchronized four-channel video installation that probes society’s self-destructive impulse and parodies avenues of popular culture such as documentaries, news media, cartoons, and pop music. Xanadu takes its title from the 1980 American pop musical starring Olivia Newton-John.

“One of the extraordinary things about Xanadu, beyond its content, is the way it engages the viewer physically and how that engagement actually relates to and reinforces its meaning,” says Nina Felshin, curator of exhibitions for the Center for the Arts. “In order to see all the projections, the viewer is forced to move around. The soundtrack of upbeat disco music not only provides a disjunctive counterpoint to the often horrific images of destruction but it makes you want to move your body to the beat of the music.”

Xanadu
’s installation in Zilkha Gallery features a photograph of a disco ball in flames, falling before a delicate pink background; three video projections on three free-standing walls; a fourth on the far wall of Zilkha’s contiguous North Gallery. Visitors become surrounded by stimuli.

Hundreds of hours of archival footage of doomsday cults, iconic political figures, and global fundamentalist movements were mined for the exhibition. Introducing the theme of the “Apocalypse,” Boyd’s video Heaven’s Little Helper (2005) begins with an excerpt from Masada, a 1981 mini-series about The Zealots, a sect of Jews who defended their right to be free from an oppressive Roman regime but who finally succumbed through an act of mass suicide.

Fast-forwarding into “family” footage of seemingly wholesome hippies and children dancing in natural settings, Boyd marks the end of sunny popular culture in the U.S. with iconic images of the Manson Family. Continuing in this vein, the video incorporates archival footage of some of the most infamous doomsday-cult gurus and their devout disciples.

“While this is not the intention of the artist, I came away feeling that if we don’t do something, if we don’t challenge what’s being served up to us, we will meet essentially the same fate as the victims represented in Boyd’s Xanadu,” Felshin says. “ There is a subtext to this work which, as an activist I would characterize as a call to action or resistance.”

Robert Boyd is an interdisciplinary installation artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. Xanadu premiered at Participant, Inc., in New York in 2006, and has also been presented in Beijing and London. The artist suggests that Xanadu is a conglomerate of our fears, paranoia, and prejudices—an envisioned Apocalypse in the process of becoming reality.

Xanadu is on display through March 4 in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, 283 Washington Terrace. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and noon to 8 p.m. Friday. A New York Times review of Xanadu is online at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9402E6DE1F3FF936A35756C0A9609C8B63.