All News

Muslim Chaplain Left Engineering for Career in Life in Faith


Imam Mahan Mirza, University Muslim Chaplain leads Qur’an Study Circles, and Islam Hour and sermons with Wesleyan’s Muslim community.
 
Posted 10/01/05
Q: Mahan, when were you hired to be the new Muslim chaplain at Wesleyan?

A: I was officially hired as of August 29, 2005.

Q: Where did you grow up and when did you move to America?

A: I grew up as the son of a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force. My parents came from India into Pakistan when the country was divided in 1947. My grandparents are from various different parts of India. My first spoken language was the Queen’s English, which I picked up as a kindergartner in 1977 in England. I remember watching Star Wars on the big screen there when it first came out.

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

A: My first year was spent at Valparaiso University in Indiana. I then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin from where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After working for two years as a design and project engineer in building environmental control systems, I left my job and returned to Pakistan to study Arabic and the Koran. I then returned to Hartford and continued working part-time as an engineer while enrolled in a graduate program in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. In 2001, I left my engineering career behind once and for all and joined a six-year full time Ph.D program in Islamic Studies at Yale University. I am currently in my fifth year there.

Q: When and why did you decide to pursue Islamic studies?

A: Anyone who looks around sees that the world has many problems. Through my college years, I wanted to devote my life to something more meaningful than designing and running machines. I wanted to know more than the machines themselves; I wanted to know their purpose. Why do we build them? How do we use them? Who are we? Who am I? Instinctively I turned to my religion for answers to these and related questions. Here I am.

Q: Do you have any idea how many Muslim chaplains there are in academia?

A: I have no idea, but there is at least one more than there were on August 28! We need many more, not just at universities and colleges, but also in hospitals, prisons, and the military.

Q: Approximately, how many students on campus are Muslim? What countries do they come from?

A: Most Muslim students on campus are American. The international Muslim students come from a variety of counties such as Turkey, Mauritius and Indonesia. I have not met all of the Muslim students yet, but the active community consists of about 15-20 people.

Q: How has your upbringing in Pakistan and past 13 years living in America has shaped your perspective on Islam in America?

A: This is a difficult question. My first name is Indian, middle name Arabic, and last name Persian. Although I was born and raised in Pakistan, America and its language and culture have never been truly foreign. I grew up watching American TV shows such as the A-Team, Knight Rider and Threes’ Company. I study Islam from a German Jesuit at a secular University. I am a child of post-modernity. In a matter of speaking, I consciously embraced Islam as a student in America. There is no denying that my background makes my perspective unique, but more than my upbringing, I would imagine it has been shaped more by my academic training than anything else.

Q: How often are you on campus, and when you are here, what are you doing?

A: I am at Wesleyan on Mondays, Fridays, every other Thursday, and some weekends. Being a part-time employee, I do my best to arrange my schedule around the activities and needs of the Muslim students on campus. Students visit during office hours and we often dine together around our activities and meetings. On Fridays, I deliver a sermon and lead the congregational prayers in the afternoon, and conduct a study circle focusing on the Koran in the evenings. In addition to these regular appearances, I come for ad hoc events in the evenings and on weekends.

Q: Where can we get more detail about these events and times?

A: We have a Web site, www.wesleyan.edu/chaplains/muslim.

Q: How do you personally celebrate Muslim culture?

A: By being Muslim, studying Islam, keeping in touch with the Muslim community, and talking about our faith and traditions with others.

Q: I understand you’re starting up a weekly Islam Hour on campus. Tell me more about this.

A: We meet Mondays from 7 to 8 p.m. at 171 Church Street. Here, I host an hour of open discussion on topics related to Islam and Muslims called “Islam 101: Religion & Tea.” This is a tradition that is carrying over from the previous chaplain who offered a lecture series titled “Islam 101.” I have modified this venue into more of a guided discussion rather than lecture format, in which students of all levels can join in and discuss contemporary American discourses on Islam. We also offer tea over the discussion, hence the modified title.

Q: What can you tell me about the Qur’an Study Circle?

A: We meet Fridays between 6 and 7 p.m. at 22 Lawn Avenue. Here we discuss topics related to the Qur’an such as its arrangement and structure, and reflect on the meaning of selected passages. Once again, the circle is not in lecture format, but rather encourages dialogue and reflection.

Q: What are your hobbies and interests?

A: When I was in high school, I used to play lots of cricket and golf. Sadly, I no longer have time for such things. I occasionally try and play squash in the gym if I get the chance. I also have three young sons who keep me busy when I am not studying or at Wesleyan. I am also interested in the world we live in, from the environment to poverty to war. Being religious does not mean being a recluse. On the contrary, spirituality to me is a direct engagement with the world and its affairs in order to make it a better place. This not only means being good to your neighbor down the street, but also to your neighbors across the ocean. But let me not get preachy here.

Q: Tell me about your family and what you enjoy doing together.

A: My wife, Stephanie, and I live with our three sons in New Haven. We’ve been married for 10 years. Steph is in the final semester of her undergraduate studies, which she pursues part-time at Southern Connecticut State University. We enjoy playing board games, reading to the kids, and outings to parks and museums. But I think what Steph and I really look forward to every day is sitting together with a midnight snack once the kids are off to bed!
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Biophysics Retreat Focuses on Research, Information Exchange


At top, Mark Flory, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, lectures to a group during the Sixth Annual Biophysics Retreat for the Molecular Biophysics Program Sept. 15. At left, Maggie Chen, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Chemistry explains her research titled “Site-Resolved Dynamics and Energetics of a Ribosomal RNA” during the Fall Retreat Poster Session, part of the biophysics program.

Posted 10/01/05
The Sixth Annual Biophysics Retreat was held at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown on Sept. 15.

Organized by David Beveridge, professor of chemistry, Manju Hingorami, assistant professor of molecular biology and Ishita Mikerji, associate professor of molecular biology, the event was supported by the Edward W. Snowdon lecture fund.

The retreat was designed to bring together students and faculty in the molecular biophysics and biological chemistry programs and provide them an opportunity to discuss their current research, explore new ideas and possible collaborative work. About 60 people attended this year’s retreat.

One of the featured speakers was Mark Flory, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

A newly-appointed member of the molecular biology and biochemistry department, Flory spoke about his research which included studying the process by which cancer cells are formed in yeast. By relying on mass spectrometry, an analytical technique used to identify complex compounds, to study yeast cells, Flory hopes that he can gain further insight into why such cells become abnormal during tumors and cancer.

“We are currently looking at the systems in yeast using genetics,” Flory says. “At some point, we can then make the jump and connection to human cells.”

Other presentations by Wesleyan faculty included “Time resolved fluorescence studies of U1A protein dynamics,” presented by Joseph Knee, professor of chemistry and “Controlling the effects of stereochemistry on biological activity” by Michael Calter, associate professor of chemistry.

In addition, Wesleyan post doctorate fellow Bethany L. Kormos presented “U1A-RNA Complex Formation: Insights from Molecular Dynamics Simulations.”

Brian T. Chait, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Professor at The Rockefeller University, delivered the keynote address titled “Proteomic tools for dissecting cellular function.”

The event also featured posters by several Wesleyan students, including “Spectroscopic and Molecular Dynamics Evidence for a Sequential Mechanism for the DNA B-A Transition,” by sixth-year molecular biology and biochemistry Ph.D. candidate Kelly Knee. Knee’s research examines the transition of certain proteins on DNA, which may potentially help with drug design in the future.

Another highlight was a poster by Congju (Maggie) Chen, a sixth-year Chemistry Ph.D. candidate, which detailed her research about how a specific strand of RNA could be attacked and broken down by Ricin, a toxin that has been linked to terrorist attacks in the past.

 
By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations

Professor Emeritus Morton Briggs Dies at Age 90


Pictured are Kay and Morton Briggs. Briggs, professor emeritus of romance languages and literatures, died Sept. 25. He worked at Wesleyan for 42 years.
Posted 10/01/05

Morton W. Briggs, a Wesleyan faculty member for over 40 years, died Sept. 25 at Middlesex Health Care Center at the age of 90.

Born in 1915 in Millbrook, N.Y., he was graduated from Cornell University in 1937. He studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and obtained master’s (1939) and doctoral (1944) degrees from Harvard University.

He joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1943 and attained the position of professor of romance languages in 1956 with a specialty in French language and literature.  He held this position until his retirement in 1985 at which time he became professor emeritus.  He was twice director of the university’s program in Paris and just this spring was honored by a former student with the creation of the Morton W. and Kathryn I. Briggs Endowed Wesleyan Scholarship.

Morton served Wesleyan in numerous ways during his long and distinguished career, including chairman of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program, director of the Honors College for two decades (1966-85), chairman of the Educational Studies Program (1973-1985), acting director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program and he was Wesleyan’s delegate to Phi Beta Kappa’s governing body, the Triennial Council, for many years. He was executive secretary of the University, secretary of the faculty, and secretary of the Academic Council.

Morton was a proud of the Middletown community and served it well. He was active in the Middlesex County United Way (board of directors, campaign chairman 1965, president 1967), the Middlesex Chapter of the American Red Cross (board of directors and chairman 1966-68), the Middletown Rotary Club (board of directors and treasurer) and The Church of the Holy Trinity.

His statewide activities included chairmanship from 1963–72 of the Foreign Language Advisory Committee for the state Department of Education.  He was also a member of the board of directors of the Connecticut Council of Language Teachers.

Morton is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Kathryn (Kay) of Middletown; their children, Christopher of Marlborough, N.H.; Kirk of Vineyard Haven, Mass.; and Kate Holmes of Grand Junction, Colo.; five grandchildren; one sister, Elinor Sutherland of Millbrook, N.Y., and many nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 8,  11 a.m., at Holy Trinity Church in Middletown.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Red Cross hurricane relief funds.

Information Commons Houses Reference, Technology Support for Students


Olin Library’s new Information Commons features a library reference desk, an Information Technology Services desk and a SARN information and referral desk.
Posted 10/01/05
A new information lab in Olin Memorial Library has merged three services into one.

Information Commons provides library reference, information technology and access to the Student Academic Resources Network (SARN). The facility is located in the Campbell Reference Center on the first floor of the library.

“Students are relying on the Internet more and more to get information, but there’s still a demand for the library’s material, reference services and workspace,” says Dale Lee, information service technician and coordinator of the Information Commons. “Our coordinated services, in-person and online, make it easy to find information.”

The Commons was created by the library staff and Information Technology Services to meet the intellectual needs of students and faculty in the 21st century.

The Commons features a library reference desk, an Information Technology Services desk and a SARN information and referral desk. Each desk is staffed by a trained specialist. While the first two desks provide services familiar to most library users, SARN combines a variety of on campus resources in one area. These include Class Deans, Writing Programs, Math Workshop, Career Resource Center, Language Resource Center, Life Sciences Mentored Study Groups, Dean’s Tutoring Program, Health Professions Partnership Initiative and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program.

“We looked at different ways we can collaborate and cooperate, and now students can get reference or technological help all in one place,” Lee says.

Equipment in the Commons includes 18 multi-use computers including 15 personal computers and three Macintosh; four computers for research and Web access; and five stand-up computers for quick look-ups. Standard office programs are provided.

The computers are linked to three black and white printers, one color printer and one scanner. In addition, the space has improved wireless access. The working space arrangements were designed to facilitate group as well as individual work.

This area is only phase one of the Information Commons. Additional group study and instruction rooms will be constructed in the future and will include computer and multi-media equipment.

For more information or comments, e-mail infocommons@wesleyan.edu or contact Lee at dtlee@wesleyan.edu. Information Commons is online at http://www.wesleyan.edu/infocommons/.

 
By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Wesleyan’s Board Chair to Kick off First Fridays


Posted 10/01/05
James van Benschoten Dresser, ’63, P’93, chairman of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees, will be among the kick-off speakers of a new “First Friday” series being sponsored by the Center for Community Partnerships. The event is open to the Wesleyan community and will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 at 167 High Street.

The series will feature presentations on the first Friday of every month and has been created by the Center for Community Partnerships for members of the Wesleyan and Middletown communities who are interested in town-gown collaborations.

Dresser’s talk, titled “If These Walls Could Talk: A Century of Town Meets Gown in the van Benschoten House,” will focus on the history of the house at 167 High Street, which is the current location of the Center for Community Partnerships, but which used to be the home of Dresser’s grandfather, who was also a professor of Classics at Wesleyan and a long-time Middletown resident. Suzy Taraba, University Archivist and Head of Special Collections, will present a companion presentation after Dresser’s talk that will focuses on the recent history of the building.

Admission to the event is free.

 
By David Pesci, director of Media Relations

Chances Are, the Future of History Comes from Wesleyan


Posted 10/01/05
The September, 2005 issue of Perspectives, the monthly publication of the American Historical Association, included a study of history Ph.D.s earned between 1989 and 2002 and showed that the leader in the field was in fact Wesleyan University – even though Wesleyan doesn’t have a Ph.D. program in history.

Though the results may sound incongruous at first, the data is actually quite solid. The study’s author, Robert Townsend, found that a higher percentage of Wesleyan students who earned bachelor’s degrees during the surveyed period went on to earn Ph.D.s in history than undergraduates from any other institution in the United States.

Townsend’s data showed that Wesleyan students earned 607 B.A.s in history from 1987-2002. This aggregate number ranked 13th overall nationwide. However, Wesleyan students went on to earn 100 history Ph.D.s from 1989 to 2002, giving the university a rate of 16 history Ph.D.s earned for every 100 history B.A.s earned within the survey period. This rate was the highest measured and tied Wesleyan with the University of Chicago for best overall ratio. The ratio also exceeded the ratios of all other liberal arts institutions in the country, as well as those of Yale, Harvard, Brown, U.C. Berkeley and Stanford.

It should be noted that though most history Ph.D.s are earned by people who received history B.A.s, this is not always the case, a point that, when considered within the context of the study, further highlights the quality of Wesleyan’s bachelor program in general.

 
By David Pesci, director of Media Relations

Gruen Researches Empathy, Ethics and Chimpanzees, Philosophically


At top, Lori Gruen, associate professor of philosophy, explains “The Chimp Project” from her office in Russell House. She and  Hughes Fellow Shayla Silver-Balbus ’06 (pictured at left) studied chimpanzees in Ohio this summer.
Posted 10/01/05
Lori Gruen spent this past summer with curious students of an unsuspecting kind – chimpanzees named Emma and Harper. Gruen, an associate professor of philosophy and co-chair of the Wesleyan Feminism, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, formally known as the Women’s Studies Department, studied the chimpanzees at the Ohio State University Chimpanzee Center where she continues to gather information for an upcoming book on empathy.

“By exploring our attitudes and relationships with chimpanzees we can enhance our capacity to empathize with different others and get a glimpse at how empathy might have evolved,” says Gruen.

Gruen’s book will focus on, among others topics, chimpanzee history, sign language skills, comparative cognition and emotional and ethical intelligence. Gruen plans to continue working on the new book during her upcoming spring sabbatical.

“This is an opportunity for me to move away from practicing pure philosophy,” she says. “This is a feature of being engaged in the world.”

Whether in the field with chimpanzees or in the classroom with students, Gruen’s academic work always involves ethics. In her classes, one of which includes the popular “Reproduction in the 21st Century,” she asks that her students challenge their life choices.

Co-taught with Laura Grabel, professor of biology and Fisk Professor of Natural Sciences, “Reproduction in the 21st Century,” focuses on such hot button issues as the ethics of cloning, stem cell research, infertility, contraception and abortion. Offered for the first time last year, the class is again at it 65 student capacity. Gruen says an additional 130 students were on the waiting list. Grabel says that a previous incarnation of the class was taught without a real ethics component and that Gruen’s insights have brought a whole perspective to the scientific information that’s presented.

“Lori has brought that missing piece to the course, Grabel says. “She can teach the rich intellectual history of the philosophical field of ethics and teach students how to apply these concepts to crafting strong ethical arguments relevant to reproductive issues ranging from cloning to abortion.”

Much like in “Reproduction in the 21st Century,” whose subject matter often attracts the local and national media, Gruen longed to weave ethics into other classes across campus. This past summer she helped launch Wesleyan’s Ethics in Society Project, a similar program to the one she launched at Stanford University before coming to Wesleyan in 2000. The project awards Ethical Reasoning Capability Summer Development Grants to six Wesleyan professors who are responsible for incorporating ethics into their undergraduate curriculums.

The grant recipients for this year include: Christina Crosby, English for a course “Questions of Embodiment”; Norman Danner, Computer Science for “Cryptography”; Indira Karamcheti, English for “Postcolonial Literature”; Elizabeth McAlister, Religion for “Christianity and Globalization”; Sheila Mullen, Less Commonly Taught Languages for “American Sign Language and Current Issues” and Suzanne O’Connell, Earth &Environmental Science for “Introduction to Environmental Science”.

The Ethics in Society Project grants will be available to Wesleyan faculty again at the beginning of spring semester as well. For more information, visit www.wesleyan.edu/ethics.

“Wesleyan’s commitment to interdisciplinary work is great for students and myself as a scholar,” says Gruen. “It’s important to be able to think deeply and broadly about challenging issues. My students always want to learn how to respond to the world around them, all while keeping ethics in mind.”

 
By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations

Nobel Laureate Speaks to Classes, Leads Symposium


Posted 10/01/05
First-year chemistry students will have the opportunity to spend some time with a Nobel Laureate at Wesleyan.

Sir Harry Kroto, professor of chemistry at Florida State University, will lecture to chemistry classes at 9 a.m. Oct. 31 in room 84 of Hall-Atwater. Kroto shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996 for discovering C60, a new form of carbon.

In addition, Kroto will present a chemistry symposium titled “Architecture in Nanospace,” at 4 p.m. Oct. 31, also in HA 84, or Exley Science Center 150 if attendance requires it. This symposium will be open to the public.

Formerly a professor at the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom, Sir Harry has studied carbon chains in space, was a pioneer in the spectroscopic study of molecules with multiple bonds between carbon and phosphorus, and, in his Nobel Prize winning work, discovered and new form of elemental carbon.

“I never dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize,” Kroto wrote in his Nobel-related biography. “Indeed I was very happy with my scientific work prior to the discovery of C60 … and even if I did not do anything else as significant I would have felt quite successful as a scientist.”

Stewart Novick, professor of chemistry, invited Kroto to speak at Wesleyan. They first met at Wesleyan’s annual Leermakers Symposium in 1992. Novick and David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry, are combining their CHEM 143 and CHEM 141 classes on Oct. 31 so Kroto can lecture to both introductory chemistry classes at once.

Novick considers Kroto to be a world class researcher who is deeply committed to science education.

“It is characteristic of him that, in addition to the cutting-edge research lecture he is presenting in the afternoon, he will take time in the morning to present a more generally accessible talk to some of the newest members of the scientific community, the students in our introductory courses,” Novick says. “Harry is a spellbinding speaker and we are certain that everyone will enjoy his perspectives on one of the most important and astounding chemical discoveries of the last 50 years.”

Krotto shares the Nobel with Robert Curl Jr. and Richard Smalley, both of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The trio made their discovery during a period of eleven days in 1985. When fine-tuning their experiment, they produced clusters with 60 carbon atoms or C60. This symmetrical molecular structure resembled a geodetic dome designed by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 Montreal World Exhibition. Hence, the scholars named their structure ‘buckminsterfullerene’ or ‘fullerene’, for short.

 
By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

“The Making of Ferocious Beauty: Genome” Kicks off Dance Residency at the CFA


Liz Lerman of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, discusses “The Making of Ferocious Beauty: Genome,” the first in a series of lectures addressing the implications of genetic research. (Photo by Lex Leifheit)
Posted 10/01/05
The year 2003 marked a major milestone in human genomics: the completion of the sequencing of the human genome. With that milestone came a seemingly endless number of possibilities, and the challenge of understanding their consequences.

“Where do we as individuals and where do we as a society draw the line, and who should do the line drawing?” asked Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at the Johns Hopkins University, addressing an audience of 120 students, Wesleyan faculty and greater Middletown community members in the CFA Cinema on Sept. 20.

Hudson, joined by Founding Artistic Director Liz Lerman of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Associate Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen, launched a discussion titled “The Making of Ferocious Beauty: Genome,” the first in a series of lectures addressing the implications of genetic research as part of the Dance Exchange’s year-long residency at Wesleyan. For the past three years, the Center for the Arts and Wesleyan Faculty have partnered with Lerman to plan the most comprehensive residency ever undertaken by a dance company at Wesleyan. This partnership has resulted in Wesleyan serving as lead commissioner of Genome, which will premiere at the CFA on Feb. 3, 2006.

“There’s a long list of partners to thank,” CFA Director Pamela Tatge commented as she individually acknowledged the people and organizations who have supported the Genome residency.

Hudson also acknowledged a vast number of people, those who contributed to the gene sequencing project as it ramped up in the late 90s, describing the genome itself as “three billion chemical letters.”

Working off a display of images ranging from a fertilized egg being “sampled,” to a comic strip, Hudson raised questions about the implications for medicine (illnesses detected early, prescriptions based on genetic makeup), equality (out of three billion, only three million chemical letters differ from person to person), justice (corporations blaming “bad genes” for afflictions such as carpal tunnel syndrome) and reproduction.

Liz Lerman opened her part of the dialogue by stating the advantage of artists in exploring the nature of scientific advances.

“We get to expand the nature of what might be real or not real, true or not true,” Lerman said.

She added that working on Ferocious Beauty: Genome has been a process of building trust with scientists, learning from them and finding ways in which they can exchange ideas.
One scientist who contributed to Genome is Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Laurel Appel. Lerman shared an anecdote where she and one of the dancers, dressed as “father of genetics” Gregor Mendel, visited Appel’s laboratory. Appel, recognizing the character Mendel, began to update him on the advances of science since his heyday in the mid-1800s.

Audience questions focused mainly on aspects of genetic research they would like to see explored through dance. Lerman did not go into great detail about the premiere, reminding them that the show is still in development, but described her vision of the structure in two parts. Act one will depict ways to understand the science. Act two will explore topics such as identity and ancestry, aging and death, and the quest for genetic “perfection” as it relates to research funding and profit motives.

The premiere of Ferocious Beauty: Genome will be on Feb. 3 and 4, 2006. Tickets are available now by calling the University Box Office at 860-685-3355. Free Genome-related events include “Challenging Nature: Biotechnology in a Spiritual World,” a lecture by Lee M. Silver, professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs at Princeton University at 8 p.m. Oct. 11 in the CFA Cinema, and “The Double Helix: Law and Science Co-constructing Race,” a talk by Pilar Ossorio, assistant professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at 8 p.m. Nov. 10 in the CFA Cinema.

 
By Lex Leifheit, press and marketing coordinator for the Center for the Arts

Director of Physical Plant Responsible for Building Trades, Utilities, Facilities, Grounds


Cliff Ashton, director of Physical Plant, oversees 75 full-time employees and 50 contract employees from the department’s new home on Long Lane.
 
Posted 10/01/05
Q: Cliff, when did you become the new director of Physical Plant and what do you think of it so far?

A: I came to Wesleyan in the middle of June 2005. The people here have been so nice and helpful getting me acclimated to the place. I look forward to a long career here.

Q: What are your responsibilities?

A: I’m responsible for overall operations and maintenance of the “physical plant” in other words most of the universities’ buildings including the central power plant but excluding rental properties, and the grounds and landscaping. We manage the contractors who mow the lawns in the warm weather and move the snow and spread the sand when it gets cold. Management of our utility consumption and related energy conservation initiatives are also within my scope of responsibility. To do this work, we have facility managers who monitor condition of our buildings, coordinate repair and improvement projects, and serve as our liaison with building users. We have a staff of skilled tradespersons and technicians who operate and monitor the various heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems and perform repairs as needed. Our operation is staffed 24×7 round the clock.

Q: How many people work in Physical Plant?

A: We have 75 full-time employees and 59 contract employees.

Q: What is the mission of Physical Plant?

A: We’re responsible for the construction, renovation, repair, maintenance and operation of all buildings and grounds. We have 370 buildings that need to be operated in a safe, environmental manner. These buildings are valuable assets so, just like your home, we try to keep them in as good a shape as possible in view of their age with the resources we have.”

Q: I imagine that can be pretty challenging.

A: The challenge is what attracted me to working here. Wesleyan has several old buildings and maintaining them can be difficult due to age, historic nature and associated restrictions, obsolete systems and availability of replacement parts.

Q: What do Wesleyan’s power bills look like?

A: Our gas, oil and electric budget is $5.6 million. Of that $2.8 million is spent on electricity alone, so conserving energy is one of our biggest priorities that we keep an eye on.

Q: If my office has a flickering fluorescent bulb, what do I do?

A: You would call our customer service office at 685-3400. We have two operators here from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. During off hours, calls are routed to the Power Plant. The operators fill out a work request and that goes into our computer system. The forepersons see the requests and assign a technician to fix the problem. We’ll get someone out there as soon as possible. If situation is not an emergency, it may take a few days to complete any repair.

Q: What are the most common reasons Wesleyan employees call Physical Plant?

A: It runs the gamut – hot, cold complaints in offices and conference rooms, plumbing repairs, lights out, broken windows, doors sticking, fire alarms. Keys are a big one. Keys break or get stuck in a lock or people lose them.

Q: Is one part of the year busier than another?

A: Right now when students and faculty return is one of the busiest. Reunion/commencement is another. Summer and break periods are very busy as those are our short windows of opportunity to get in to student residence areas to make repairs and do preventive maintenance. We are pretty busy throughout the year.

Q: What would happen if Physical Plant closed down for just one day?

A: Well, the power plant would be unattended and that would not be very safe. Repairs would not get done, an overflowing toilet would not get fixed very quickly, students who locked themselves out of their rooms would need to be let in by public safety each time.

Q: How does the new Physical Plant facility on Long Lane benefit your department?

A: Before we moved into the Cady School on Long Lane, Physical Plant was split into different locations on campus. The shop facilities were poor and not conducive to morale. By being consolidated under one roof, we can foster teamwork and employees have a sense of belonging. We can all think under one roof. The new shop facilities should help to improve our service delivery.

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

A: I was working at Middlesex Hospital as a director of engineering. I was managing projects, facilities, clinical engineers, the buildings, physical plant and grounds. Before that, I worked at Northeast Utilities for 18 year in various power plant facility engineering and management roles.

Q: What did you study in college?

A: I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s of business administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I’m also a registered professional engineer in the state of Connecticut.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be a handy-man?

A: Yes. I’m always fixing things around the house. My first house in New Britain was a three-family house and I worked on that quite a bit. Many years ago I worked in a machine shop.

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

A: I enjoy sailing, snow and water skiing, and working on my model railroad. I‘ve been doing that project for about 15 years. My wife, Teri, and I have a 7-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, and I’m busy coaching my daughter’s soccer team and my son’s basketball team.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

United Way Campaign Begins Oct. 6


Posted 10/01/05

Wesleyan will again help build a stronger, healthier Middlesex County during the Middlesex United Way’s annual Community Campaign. The campaign kicked off Oct. 6 at the President’s House.

This year’s goal is $140,000, which is $5,000 more than last year’s goal.

For more than 60 years, the Wesleyan community has supported the local United Way. Its Core Services provides funding to 32 local programs and services offered by its 23 partner agencies. These include the American Red Cross, 2-1-1 Infoline; Middlesex Hospital Family, Advocacy Program; Middlesex Hospital Homecare; Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters; Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater; Salvation Army of Middletown, among others.

This year Middlesex United Way is supporting a new initiative called Community Impact, which is designed to target root causes of chronic community problems that are hurting families. Community Impact programs include housing, mental health and substance abuse programs.

“Just feeding a hungry family isn’t enough,” explains John Biddiscombe, adjunct professor of Physical Education, director of Athletics and chair of the Physical Education Department. “We want to address the reason why a family goes hungry in the first place.”

Biddiscombe served as president of the Middlesex United Way for two years, vice president for two years and on the organization’s executive committee for seven years.

Kevin Wilhelm, Middlesex United Way’s executive director, explained that local needs assessment results, input from residents, and calls to Connecticut’s 2-1-1 Infoline show that housing, mental health and substance abuse rank as top concerns of county residents.

“Middlesex United Way has traditionally served local residents by funding non-profit agencies that provide critical human care services,” says Wilhelm. “We are also being more proactive in our approach and funding community projects that reach more residents and address what they tell us is of top concern to them.”

The substance abuse initiative focuses on reducing and preventing substance abuse among sixth to 12th graders through Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth. In a recent survey of Connecticut ninth and 10th graders, 36 percent reported using marijuana, 28 percent reported binge drinking in the past month, and 24 percent reported being regular smokers. United Way focuses on school and home-based prevention programs for school-aged children and their families.

The improved mental health initiative focus on early identification and intervention of children birth to 5-years-old with social and emotional problems so that more children enter school ready to learn. About 24 percent of Connecticut high school students indicated on a recent survey that they have “seriously considered” suicide.

The housing initiative focus is on affordable housing along Connecticut’s shoreline, specifically to develop affordable housing units for working families currently living in motels. Forty percent of Middlesex County’s homeless are dependent children.

Last year, Wesleyan raised a record-breaking $140,018, 6.5 percent of Middlesex United Way’s total.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Time to Give

Wesleyan began its Middlesex United Way campaign Oct. 6. Office delegates passed out contribution forms to their respective areas. Employees can make contributions through payroll deduction.

Anyone who gives has a chance at winning one of three gift certificates raffled off during the campaign. Prizes include a $100 gift certificate at the Wesleyan Computer Store and Service Center; $100 gift certificate at Broad Street Books; and squash lessons at Freeman Athletic Center, valued at $120.

Last year 59 percent of Wesleyan employees made donations to the local chapter. Those that pledge more than $1,000 will become members of Wesleyan’s Leadership Circle.

Economics Department, Latin American Studies Welcomes New Assistant Professor


Francisco Rodriguez, assistant professor of economics and Latin American Studies is still getting settled into his new office. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)
 
Posted 10/01/05

Francisco Rodriguez has joined the Economics Department and Latin American Studies Department as an assistant professor.

He accepted the position because of the “intellectual freedom and environment of a liberal arts institution, as well as the high quality and openness of both the Economics and Latin American Studies departments,” he says.

Rodriguez’s research examines economic growth in developing countries and the interaction between inequality, distributive conflict and economic performance.

He’ll be teaching classes on international trade, economics of Latin America and economic and societal collapses.

Rodriguez received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, Venezuela and his master’s in economics from Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D from Harvard with a thesis titled “Essays on the Political Economy of Redistribution and Growth.”

Rodriguez most recently completed a visiting fellowship at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Between 2000 and 2004, Rodriguez was the chief economist of the Venezuelan National Assembly. Before that, he had worked as an assistant professor in the Economics Department of the University of Maryland, College Park.

Rodriguez is the co-author of “The Political Economy of Investment in Human Capital,” which is forthcoming in the Economics of Governance and “Inequality, Redistribution and Rent-Seeking,” published in Economics and Politics, November 2004.

His wife, María Eugenia, is a Ph.D candidate in marketing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has a step-daughter, Celeste, 12, and a Siamese cat named Shalimar.

Rodriguez’s interests include reading narrative literature. Among his favorite authors are Gunter Grass of Germany, Alejo Carpentier of Cuba, Alberto Fuguet of Chile and Gao Xingjian of China.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor