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Evening Manager Supervises Late-Night University Center Activity

Josh Hamilton, evening manager for the Usdan University Center, builds relationships with Wesleyan students through the Usdan Center Activities Board.
Posted 04/03/08
Q: Josh, when does the “evening” begin at the Usdan University Center? What is your typical shift?

A: Generally around 6 p.m. is when I begin. The evening continues until 2 a.m. when we do our final walk through before going home.

Q: What are your primary duties as a manager?

A: I am here to support the student staff that operates the building.

Q: What typically goes on during your job?

A: I do a fair amount of work on my computer. However, many times I am out in the building checking up how the building is, such as whether it’s clean, furniture organized, and everything inside is in working order. Often I assist the student staff with issues they may encounter.

Q: Do you have the opportunity to interact with the students? Do you get to know any of them on a personal level?

A: I am the supervisor of our setup crew. This responsibility lets me get to know the students who make up the setup crew team very well. I am also the co-advisor for the Usdan Center Activities Board (UCAB) with Nicole Chabot, which allows me to build relationships with the students who sit on the board. Our student manager and Information desk staff both set their schedules so that students work the same times and days through out the semester. I get to know the students who work nights very well by the end of each semester.

Q: What is the dynamic like during the evening hours?

A: There are a few groups who meet in Usdan after dinner. UCAB puts on events each Thursday and every other weekend. Other students and groups have held dinners, lectures, dances and concerts which go until the building closes. Many students stop by for late night dining. Others use Usdan’s lounges as an option to Olin for their studies. And still others relax by playing pool, ping pong, or foosball in the game room.

Q: What are your thoughts on the new Usdan complex?

A: I think it’s a great resource that everyone in the Wesleyan community can, and should, take advantage of. Where I went to school the student center didn’t have nearly as many opportunities and amenities as Usdan has.

Q: What are some of the unexpected challenges that come up from time to time?

A: In general the issues we face include disappointed building users, last minute requests or changes for events, and broken equipment in the building.

Q: What are typical concerns or questions the university center staff might ask you during your shift?

A: The students seek my assistance for issues such as speaking to clients, methods for avoiding and solving problems, and guidance with time management and completion of their responsibilities during their shift.

Q: When did you come to Wesleyan?

A: I came to Wesleyan in July to begin to prepare for the opening of Usdan. I always heard great things about the university from a family friend who attended Wesleyan. Working in higher education has been one of my career goals.

Q: What were you doing before? How was that similar to what you do now?

A: I was the assistant operations manager for the Sportscenter of Connecticut, which is a large family activity center in Shelton, Conn. The property included a mini-golf course, driving range, batting cage, laser tag and the world’s only double-decker ice rink. My job here at Usdan and my old job at the Sportscenter have many similarities, both buildings were built to hold events and entertain users. The main difference is the community aspect at Usdan. At the Sportscenter there was not much opportunity to get to know the people who used the building. However, at Usdan one of my favorite parts is building a rapport with the Wesleyan community members who make use of Usdan.

Q: Where did you attend college and what did you major in?

A: The University of New Haven. I majored in sports management.

Q: Where are you from and do you have family?

A: I grew up in Massachusetts. I currently do not have any kids, but would like to have a few some day. A black lab named Zam is the closest thing I have to a child. Both Zam and I enjoy hiking and the outdoors. I also play men’s league hockey and softball. This spring I will be playing golf with the Westrokers.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Student Athlete Breaks Track Record in Javelin with 143-Foot Throw

Fotini Xenidis ’11 has already qualified provisionally for the NCAA Division III Championships.
Posted 04/03/08
Q: Fotini, you just broke a 23-year-old outdoor track record at Wesleyan in the javelin by more than 13 feet in your first collegiate meet. Did you have any idea what Wesleyan’s team record was before you began competing and if so, did you think you’d be able to break it so soon?

A: I knew that the record was 130 because it was in the field house and we always practiced there so I would see it every day. My best throw in high school was 139 feet 10 inches so I was expecting to break the record, but not in the first meet. I was amazed that I threw that far so early in the season.

Q: In looking at the pattern of your throws at the meet in Florida on March 21, your first two tosses were under 120 feet, then came the record-breaker at 143 feet, 4 inches, followed by a more modest 125 foot throw. Can you describe the psyche of an athlete in an event like the javelin where there can be such a variation in performance?

A: I was glad about all my throws. Hitting the 120s consistently was a great way to start off the season. During the first throw, I usually am nervous because a lot of times the first throw shows me where I stand as a thrower at that time. Plus the first throw of my first college meet was nerve-racking. Many people on the team were expecting me to deliver a great performance. The second throw is always more relaxed, but in my mind I am relieved because I know that if I don’t do well on this throw, I had two more. The third throw is always my favorite one. That’s for two reasons: reason number one being that it is my favorite number and reason two being that in almost all of my high school meets, my third throw has always been the best. Psychologically, I was expecting this throw to be the best. The fourth throw in this meet was really relaxed and since I knew that I was ahead of the competition by 5 meters, I wasn’t as psyched up to throw far as I was when I was behind. That’s how my mind works in a nutshell.

Q: You have already qualified provisionally for the NCAA Division III Championships. Based on what you’ve done so far, do you have your sights set on any particular goal this season? A NESCAC title? A New England title? An NCAA title?

A: I never think like that. I think it freaks me out to think of winning titles and it also makes me nervous for the wrong reasons. Going into meets I only make a goal of how far I want to throw. I could care less if it gets me a title or not. But hey, winning doesn’t hurt either. My ultimate goal for this season is to be able to hit 150 feet and qualify automatically for NCAA. I don’t like setting goals to win titles. In high school I won the Connecticut State Championship with a throw of 117 feet and I was extremely upset. I’m more focused on doing well with my throws than winning titles. But I guess that’s not something a coach likes to hear!

Q: You came to Wesleyan from nearby Shelton, Conn. How did you become interested in attending Wesleyan? Did your talent as a volleyball player have anything to do with enrolling at Wesleyan?

A: My old volleyball head coach, Bonnie Fineman, left my high school for an assistant coach position at Wesleyan and that was the first time I heard of the school. She was the most passionate coach I ever had and she made a big impact on me. So when it came time to look at colleges, she told me that the head coach, Gale [Lackey], and she were interested in me and that I would be able to do both volleyball and track. A year later, here I am and it’s all thanks to Bonnie Fineman.

Q: Tell us about your experience with Wesleyan’s volleyball team this past fall after starting almost every match at outside hitter and ranking second on the team in kills with 2.41 per game?

A: I came on the team not expecting to start and miraculously I did. I was happy about the playing time I received and also about how good every player was. We have some of the best players in the NESCAC. Lisa Drennan, Ellie Healy, Ruby Hernandez, Becca Rodger, and I can go on and on. I loved everything about the team. Everyone was so friendly and got along so well. This seems like a silly reason to like a team, but going through my high school volleyball season was quite different. There came a time in high school when I wanted to quit because the drama was getting in the way with the team’s performance. The girls on the [Wesleyan] team were great on and off the court. We spent every single day together and would have dinners and Sunday brunches.

Q: Tell us a bit about your home life in Shelton? What do your mother and father do for a living? Do you have any siblings and what are they up to?

A: My mother is the most hard working woman I know. Her dedication has definitely rubbed off on me. She has shown me by example to never quit even when things aren’t going your way. My parents were born and raised and Greece and moved here in search of the American dream. They own a breakfast/lunch place and work there seven days a week. They have sacrificed so much to make sure my brother and I are accommodated for. My father is extremely into sports and it definitely rubbed off on both me and my brother. We have been active ever since we could walk. I have always played a sport. My brother is a senior in high school and the most athletic kid I know. Football, basketball, volleyball, baseball, tennis, he’s done them all. Not only has he played all those sports, but he was the best one on the team for all of them. From being a middle hitter in volleyball to being a free safety and fullback in football, he has shown me what it means to be an athlete. He is my inspiration. I feel extremely happy when I make my family proud with my volleyball or track performances.

Q: Besides throwing the javelin and playing volleyball, what other types of activities attract your attention?

A: I like to read books and I love to watch my brother and boyfriend play sports. I think it makes me proud to see them do so well. My boyfriend also plays volleyball but at a Division I level and did track in high school. We’re eerily similar in sports. I also like to defend the Yankees because everyone I know is a Boston fan. Considering the number of times I’ve done it, it should be considered a hobby.

Q: What academic subjects interest you and what do you think might be your major at Wesleyan?

A: I like Classics a lot. The people of ancient times really interest me because their train of thought was so complex and they were brilliant. Imagine being the person who created geometry. Don’t get me wrong, we have brilliant people in today’s world, but back then it seemed like they had so little, but did so much. Maybe it’s my Greek pride?

Q: Is there anything else in your background we should know about?

A: I had two stress fractures on my lower fifth vertebrae my junior year. I was out for three months which was the longest time I have ever not played a sport. I was out for the first two months of track season and came back just in time for the last meet where I was able to qualify for states. I missed the national mark by 1 inch. Those three months without doing either volleyball or track made me feel useless and made me realize exactly how much I loved to throw javelin. I’ve never been in so much pain in my life either. I would walk like an 83-year-old woman and it hurt to sit, sleep, and move. I am praying the pain will never come back.

By Brian Katten ’79, sports information director

Director of Major Gifts Raises Gifts for Wesleyan’s Endowment

Christine Pina ’91 travels 100 times a year visiting Wesleyan alumni, friends and parents to secure gifts for the university.
Posted 04/03/08
Christine Pina loves donors to give, and give big.

As the director of major gifts in University Relations, Pina oversees solicitations of financial gifts of $50,000 and higher, and has responsibility for both the major gifts and development research teams.

“Our teams work to raise large gifts for Wesleyan’s endowment and other capital needs such as buildings and programs,” Pina explains. “We work with alumni, friends and parents to secure gifts that will be used to strengthen Wesleyan.”

These gifts can be given to the endowment or through the Wesleyan Fund and support scholarship aid, academic programs, facilities and general operating costs.

Pina corresponds with donors through e-mail and on the phone daily, and visits about 100 people throughout the country each year. She frequently helps donors make connections to faculty, students and programs at Wesleyan.

In addition to her normal fund-raising duties, she works to help Wesleyan realize its goal of enhancing its science facilities with the proposed Molecular and Life Sciences building. She hopes the ongoing project will have a transformative effect on the southern end of campus.

“Though I am not a scientist, I recognize that the study and understanding of these disciplines are enormously vital to our local and global communities,” she says. “I am honored to be able help ensure that future generations of Wes grads are scientifically literate no matter what their academic major.”

Pina joined the major gifts staff in September 2004 as a major gift officer. In the spring of 2006, she was promoted to the director of major gifts. Her “tremendously wonderful colleagues” on the major gift team include Faye Del Pezzo, Robert Mosca and Michelle Dube. Faraneh Carnegie, currently in Alumni Programs, and Regan Schubel, currently in the Wesleyan Fund, will join the team this summer.

Prior to beginning a career in institutional advancement, Pina worked as a management consultant before turning to the field of education. She spent several years at Dartmouth College’s Office of Admission and subsequently became the associate director of admission and the director of minority recruitment for Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H.

At the Development Office at the Madeira School in McLean, Va., Pina helped develop the first major gift program for the all girls’ boarding-day school in anticipation of a $60M capital campaign for building and endowment support. After leaving Madeira she continued to live in Virginia and became a remotely-based gift officer for the development team at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. For St. Paul’s she focused on securing major gifts for the School’s endowment and the construction of a $25M athletic facility.

Pina earned her Ed.M in higher education administration, planning and policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a bachelor of art in African American Studies from Wesleyan in 1991. During these undergraduate years, Pina spent her summers on Capitol Hill doing education and health care policy work for her then-congressman. That experience helped Pina identify an interest in planning and policy work.

“I am really proud to be working at my alma mater,” Pina says. “I think Wesleyan is an extraordinary place and I consider it a privilege to work here and help the university provide a distinctive and first-rate education to its students.”

Pina is active in Wesleyan’s Administrators and Faculty of Color Alliance, and participates in various Wesleyan alumni events throughout the year.

Outside of Wesleyan, she is the senior warden of the vestry at St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Conn. and is a member of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. She also is the founding director of A Hand Up, Inc., an organization working to move families in the greater Hartford area from homelessness to independent living.

“Our goal is to help people in the Greater Hartford area who are transitioning from homelessness to independence by supplying them with basic household goods,” Pina says. “We are a volunteer organization and we work in consort with a number of other service agencies in Hartford. We help about 60 families each year and are getting ready to expand our program, and we are always looking for individuals and groups who would like to volunteer a few hours to help.”

Pina grew up in West Falmouth, Mass. and is the third generation of family hailing from Cape Cod. She currently lives in West Hartford with her husband, Alex Smith, an “avid University of Michigan fan” whom she constantly reminds that Wesleyan football still holds an undefeated record against the maize and blue, and 4-year-old son, Arthur.

“Arthur often says that he wants to play baseball, hockey and lacrosse and study race car jumping – I think that means physics – at Wesleyan,” Pina says, smiling.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

The Wesleyan Connection: Campus Snapshot

BLOGS or WIKIS?: Kevin Wiliarty, academic technology coordinator, speaks on “Wesleyan Blogs and Wikis: What are they? How can I use them?” during the Academic Technology Roundtable March 3 in Olin Library. Wiliarty assists faculty and staff in the creation and maintenance of various professional webpages. He recommends users look into Web 2.0 technologies to collaborate on projects via the web.

At left, Jamie Cohen-Cole, visiting assistant professor of history, speaks about his personal experience using Web 2.0 technologies. Faculty and staff can create their own accounts through Wesleyan’s Electronic Portfolio. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

Associate Director of McNair Program Prepares Students for Graduate Studies

Santos Cayetano, associate director of the McNair Program, works with first-generation college students to prepare them for graduate school. The program is located inside Butterfield B.
Posted 03/17/08
Santos Cayetano has supported Wesleyan for years. He mentored students through the Upward Bound program and taught classes at the Great Hollow Wilderness School, an experimental education center formerly overseen by Wesleyan.

Now Cayetano is helping first generation college students from low-income families prepare for a successful post-graduate education experience through the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program.

The McNair Program serves students who are first generation college students from low-income families or African-American, Hispanic, native American, native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Students interested in pursuing a PhD in any field may apply.

As the new associate director of the program, Cayetano encourages these students to pursue academic excellence.

“Ultimately, my goal is to help McNair fellows complete their master’s degrees and hopefully their Ph.Ds,” says Cayetano, who was hired Feb. 25.

Laurel F. Appel, director of the McNair Program, says Cayetano is already making progress with the McNair students.

“Santos has met with students and held information sessions in his office and at Usdan with students interested in the program,” Appel notes. “As the newest member of the Student Academic Resource Network, he is quickly getting up to speed on all the members of the network, and how to assist students in making use of them.”

Cayetano advises students to consider the McNair Program “as soon as they start thinking about going to graduate school,” he says. During their preparatory years, frosh and sophomores are called “McNair Scholars.” The McNair program puts emphasis on teaching Scholars about Ph.D options, how and why one might go about earning a doctorial degree. The program also helps students choose an academic direction and prepare for active research. All fields of research are eligible for the program but the focus is on the fields of math or science.

After their sophomore year, students can become “McNair Fellows.” Students are matched with a faculty mentor who will oversee their progress and research. All Fellows receive a stipend. The program is able to support 25 fellows and 25 scholars each year.

“A major part of preparing for graduate research is to get involved in research as an undergraduate, so the focus in the last two years is on doing research with Wesleyan faculty working toward a thesis or senior paper,” Cayetano explains.

In addition the stipend and faculty mentoring, Fellows are provided with mutually-supportive mentoring groups and educational workshops on various topics related to graduate school. The program also offers waivers or fee-offsets for graduate application fees and opportunities to attend regional or national McNair conferences where students present their work and network with members of other McNair programs.

The Scholars and Fellows also encouraged to attend McNair Research Talks. This year, Appel spoke on “Getting Involved in Research while at Wesleyan: Professors, Projects, Funding, Internships;” Tim Ku, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences spoke on “The Biogeochemistry of Freshwater Lakes and Tropical Coasts: Implications for Cultural Eutrophication and Bioluminescent Bays;” Ishita Mukerji, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry spoke on “How Do Fibers Form in Sickle Cell and Alzheimer’s Disease? Insights from Spectroscopy;” and Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, spoke on “Abstract Number and Arithmetic in Preschool Children.”

In the near future, McNair students will also participate in talks about their own research experiences.

The McNair staff also includes Appel; Donna Thompson, director of the Upward Bound Program and McNair Grant Principal Investigator; and Valerie Marinelli, administrative assistant.

Partners in providing services for students in Butterfield B315 are Jim Donady, director of the Health Professions Partnership Initiative and professor of biology; Renee Johnson-Thornton, associate coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship; and Alice Hadler, International Student Affairs Writing program, and Language service for non-native speakers.

“Santos really impressed the search committee with his history of working with students from first generation college/low income families, helping them define goals they might not have considered, and then mentoring them as they achieve those goals,” Appel says.

Prior to Wesleyan, Cayetano was senior program director of the Ralphola Taylor Community Center YMCA in Bridgeport, Conn. where he oversaw all programming, budgeting, facility, maintained and built community relations, grants writing and compliance; while supervising a staff of nine direct reports and 51 indirect reports. Prior to the Taylor Center, he was a regional director at Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, working closely with student volunteers from the University of Connecticut-Waterbury, Post University and Naugatuck Community College in becoming mentors and community leaders.

At Great Hollow, he worked with students on team-building, and getting them to confront challenges that were at the outer limits of their confidence.

“I worked with Wesleyan students there, as beginning teachers and as clients, and I always wanted a position where I could again work directly with students,” he says.

Cayetano was born in Honduras, grow up in Belize, and went to middle school and high school in the Bronx, New York. He majored in sociology at Buffalo State College. He has two children, Hazanni, 7, and Izabella, 2.

In addition spending time with his children, Caytano has several hobbies away from Wes.

“I love playing soccer, camping, sitting by the ocean, hiking, learning about the social structure of our society, and providing opportunities for others to achieve while developing myself,” he says.

For more information on the McNair Program or to apply, go to:

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Seniors Project Takes Student Researchers to Puerto Rico

At left, Hannah Hastings ‘’08 and Andrea Pain ‘‘08 snorkeled the Puerto Rico shoreline to collect seagrass as part of their earth and environmental sciences senior research seminar.

In January, Hannah Hastings ‘’08 and Andrea Pain ‘‘08 collected seagrass from the ocean floor to study nutrient content in a dinoflagellate-rich ecosystem off the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. The seniors returned to Wesleyan and analyzed their samples for carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus levels. They discovered a high ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus compared to the normal ratio in the ocean.

“”We discovered that high dinoflagellate concentrations are directly associated with elevated nitrogen to phosphorus ratios,”” Pain said during Part I of the Earth and Environmental Science Department’s Senior Seminar Research Project colloquium March 6. Part II of the colloquium is scheduled for March 25.

Professor, Alumna Observe Initial State of Earth-Like Planet Formation

Professor of Astronomy Bill Herbst observed sand-like grains in space through the reflection of light from stars. These grains are the building blocks of an Earth-like planet.
Posted 03/17/08
For the first time, astronomers have observed the initial phase in the formation of an earth-like planet.

The discovery, highlighted in the March 13 issue of Nature, was documented by a team of astronomers led by William Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, chair of the Astronomy Department and director of the Van Vleck Observatory (pictured at right) and Catrina Hamilton, Ph.D ’03, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.

What Herbst, Hamilton and other astronomers on the team observed was that a protoplanetary disk, or ring, around the binary star known as KH 15D, is composed of solid particles larger than what is usually observed in space.

“For hundreds of years, scientists have been theorizing that Earth-like planets form when gas and dust around a star get compressed into these disks and the material begins to coalesce into planets. But until now we never had the ability to study this process in detail,” Herbst says. “The unique geometry presented by KH 15D and the way the light was being reflected off the disk allowed us to get a good look at the structure of the disk. We were amazed at what we saw.”

The disk orbiting KH 15D is at least the size of Jupiter’s orbit and composed of sand-sized grains that have grown from microscopic-sized particles to form the larger grains. These grains are now approximately 1mm in diameter, much larger than the tiny particles typically seen in space. This is also the characteristic size of “chondrules,” small glassy spherules that are found in the most primitive solar system, the so-called carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.

A Flash animation of what the team observed can be seen here:

The observations of the disk were made over several years using some of the largest telescopes in the world, including the 10-meter telescope of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. More modest telescopes, including the one at Wesleyan University’s Van Vleck observatory and the Maidanak Observatory in Uzbekistan, were also used in the study.

Located approximately 2,400 light years from earth and also known within the astronomical community as the “winking star,” KH 15D was first documented in 1995 by Herbst and his then-graduate student Kristin Kearns ’98. An ensuing Ph.D. thesis by Hamilton further solidified the importance of this star and brought it to the attention of the astronomical community. In 2004, two groups of astronomers on opposite coasts showed that KH 15D’s winking was a result binary star with an orbiting period of 48.36 days within a large disk. The winking effect was generated as one of the stars alternately rose above and set below the disk.

What Herbst, Hamilton and the rest of the team observed recently is that the disk is slowly hiding the stars from view and putting them in a permanent state of faintness, though still visible by the reflection off the disk.

“Because of how the light is being reflected there are opportunities to make observations about the chemical composition of these sand-like particles,” Herbst said. “That’s very exciting because it opens up so many doors for new type of research on this disk.”

The members of the Herbst’s team documenting the observations include Hamilton, Katherine LeDuc MA ‘07; Joshua Winn of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.; Christopher Johns-Krull of Rice University; Reinhard Mundt of the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany; and Mansur Ibrahimov of the Ulugh Bek Astronomical Institute in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Support for the work has come over the years from NASA’s Origins of Solar Systems program and from the W. M. Keck Observatory Principal Investigator’s Fund.

For more information, go to

By David Pesci, director of media relations. Video still and video by Wesleyan’s Academic Media Studio.

Wesleyan Competes in RecycleMania

Posted 03/17/08
For the second year in a row, Wesleyan is participating in the nation-wide competition, RecycleMania, for college and university recycling programs. The 10-week program provides campus communities with a fun, proactive activity in waste reduction.

More than 400 institutions are participating in different contests to see which institution can collect the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the largest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita, or have the highest recycling rate.

“This is a fun way for the Wesleyan community to get excited about recycling, and possibly end up with national recognition, awards and bragging rights,” explains Jeff Miller, associate director of Facilities Management.

Since Jan. 27, Miller has been measuring Wesleyan’s recycling efforts from residence halls and academic and administrative buildings. One a week, recycled materials are collected from various outside locations on campus and weighed. Cardboard weight collection is estimated by the size of containers removed from various locations on campus.

Miller reports the poundage to the RecycleMania organization for weekly ranking.

Wesleyan is competing in the “Partial Campus” category, because 25 percent of campus’s recyclable materials are collected by the City of Middletown, and these collection amounts cannot be measured in the competition.

In the “Partial Campus” category, Wesleyan has ranked in the upper half of 44 schools in paper and cardboard recycling, and in the top half of 50 schools in bottles and cans. Wesleyan ranks 57th per capita overall, which equals roughly 14 pounds per person recycled, putting the university ahead of Williams, Middlebury, Tufts, Bowdoin, Hamilton and Colby in the competition.

“Wesleyan is competing against its peer institutions, which makes the competition even more exciting,” explains Joyce Topshe, associate vice president for facilities. “Even after the competition is over, we hope Wesleyan continues its outstanding achievements in recycling and waste reduction.”

RecycleMania began in February 2001 when Ed Newman (Ohio University) and Stacy Edmonds Wheeler (Miami University) decided that something had to be done to increase recycling in the residence and dinning halls on their campuses. The word spread and by 2006, 93 colleges and universities were participating. The number grew to 201 in 2007, and doubled for this years competition. Awards, trophies and participant certificates are given following the competition.

To learn more about the structure of the competition and Wesleyan’s weekly rankings, go to

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Food Topic of Shasha Seminar

Posted 03/17/08
“Food: Power and Identity” is the topic of the Wesleyan’s 2008 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns. The event will take place April 4-6 on campus.

Endowed by James Shasha ’50, the annual Shasha Seminar supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. This year, seminar speakers will discuss how food shapes our identity, public and private discourse, politics and daily lives.

“Food: Power and Identity” will tackle issues on food production, such as industrial agriculture, organic agriculture, genetic manipulation, local vs. global, sustainability; food and politics, for example unequal distribution of food, food policies such as farm subsidies and corporate lobbies, famine, food security; food and science topics, such as nutrition, eating disorders, food safety, genetic manipulation; food and culture, such as food rituals and taboos, identity through food, food and art/film/writing, tourism; and ways food is produced in the economy.

“Few topics call forth more interest, concern, passion, joy, and outrage than the food we eat,” explains Shasha Seminar Coordinating Committee member John Finn, professor of government and graduate of the French Culinary Institute. “Food is an inspiration for artists, a delight for the connoisseur, a weapon in war-torn areas, and an immense worldwide business. The critical need for a safe food supply has spawned controversial science and political furor. Above all, food reflects our deepest cultural and personal identity.”

Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, is the keynote speaker. Her research focuses on the analysis of scientific, social, cultural, and economic factors that influence dietary recommendations and practices. She is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (2002), Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (2003), and What to Eat (2006). She will speak at 8 p.m. April 4 in Memorial Chapel.

Additional speakers include:

– Eric Asimov ’79, chief wine critic of The New York Times and author of $25 and Under: A Guide to the Best Inexpensive Restaurants in New York.

– Ruth Reichl P’11, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and former New York Times restaurant critic.

– Faith Middleton, a radio, television, and print journalist and honorary co-chair of Celebration of Connecticut Farms, which supports Connecticut Farmland Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving Connecticut farms and supporting farm families;

– Jimmy Daukas coordinator of policy research and design, alliance building, legislation, and communications for American Farmland Trust’s campaign to transform U.S. agriculture policy.

– Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Hon. ’07, chairwoman of the Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee, where she has worked to provide funding for a safe food supply, for a healthy agricultural economy, and for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate thousands of products used everyday.

– David Fischhoff P’08, vice president for technology strategy and development, and chief of staff for the technology division at Monsanto Company. He invented insect resistant transgenic crop plants that are among the leading products of plant biotechnology.

– Darra Goldstein, the Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Russian at Williams College, founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, and International Association of Culinary board member.

– Barbara Haber P’85, culinary historian and former curator of books at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University, where she developed a major collection of more than 16,000 volumes on cooking and food.

– Krishnendu Ray, assistant professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University.

– Karen Anderson, associate dean of continuing studies and director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan, where she also has taught courses on Hinduism, creation mythology, anthropology, and history of religions.

– Gina Ulysse, assistant professor of anthropology and African American studies, poet and performer.

A series of informational sessions will begin April 5. Individual sessions are titled “Subversive Food,” “The Science of Seed and Crop Improvement for Food Production,” “Home Cooking Far From Home: Food and Identity,” “The Food Schmooze,” “Foodways: Cultural Histories and Anthropologies of Food and Social Life,” and “The Politics of Food and Agriculture.”

The Shasha Seminar Coordinating Committee members are Finn, Karen Anderson, associate dean of Continuing Studies and Director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program; Gail Briggs, associate director of alumni programs; William Holder ’75, director of publications; Peter Patton, vice president and secretary of the university, and Linda Secord, director of alumni programs and university lectures. Finn will facilitate all sessions.

The Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns is open to the Wesleyan community and the general public. The fee is $250 per person, which includes the keynote speaker, a reception, a wine tasting, all meals and conference materials. To register, go to For additional information call 860-685-2737.

For more information go to:

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Student’s Dream Gives Flight to Multimedia-Based Oral History Project

Intisar Abioto ’08, left, and her sisters, Amenta and Kalimah, traveled to Djibouti as part of their “People Could Fly Project.” In Djibouti, they met men and camels returning from Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa, with salt from the lakes shores.
Posted 03/17/08
Intisar Abioto ’08 had a recurring daydream where she traveled to all parts of the world, adventure-seeking, meeting new people and hearing their stories – especially people her own age.

“Our positive stories aren’t always represented in books or movies or on TV, and what the repercussions of this are, is that young people don’t see themselves as heroes,” says Abioto, a dance and English major. “I wanted to take the stories of young people who are following their dreams and doing amazing things.”

Determined to make her dream a reality, Abioto applied for a grant last summer in attempts to fund a project she titled The People Could Fly (Project). The title is based on Abioto’s favorite childhood book by Virginia Hamilton. Abioto proposed traveling to various cities across the country and world to collect the stories and dreams of young people, in particular people of color. Abioto’s grant application for the project was denied. But she didn’t give up hope.

“I never understood why, as a child, you’re always told you can do anything you want to, but then when you get older, you’re pretty much told to get real and do something that makes logical sense,” Abioto explains. “So here I was being told I couldn’t do this project because of money, but I told myself, I would make a way because this was my dream and I had to do it.”

Abioto, 21, teamed up with her sisters, Kalimah, 20; Hanifah, 20; Amenta, 16; Aisha, 8, to make the project happen. Kalimah attends Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. where she studies film, and her other sisters live in Memphis, Tenn. Combined, the siblings have skills in writing, photography, video, performance and storytelling — and apparently fund-raising. Together, they were able to raise enough money from friends and family to travel.

With help from their father, who works in the airline industry, Intisar and her close-knit sidekicks spent the past year traveling within the U.S. to Atlanta, Ga., St. Louis, Mo.; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City, Jena, La., Mabon, Miss., Oakland, Calif., Detroit, Mich., Nashville, Tenn. and Raleigh, N.C. They also traveled to Djibouti in East Africa and Intisar traveled solo to Senegal during a school for international training program.

This summer, the sisters are planning to travel to at least four other countries.

Most of the trips are planned a week ahead, or not planned at all. If possible, they will catch any flight out for the weekend and stay with friends.

At every stop, the sisters seek strangers who are willing to talk about themselves. Some interviews are conducted inside airport terminals, where the young journalists, photographers and filmmakers meet an array of people from all over the country.

“There are so many stories out there that need to be told. I am interested in hearing them and recording them, and in this way perhaps help other people to believe, tell, and implement their own stories and dreams,” says the English and dance major. “With this project, I take the stories of young black people, or anyone really, who are following their dreams and doing amazing things.”

Flying, Abioto explains, is a crucial part of The People Could Fly project. In Hamilton’s black folktale book, The People Could Fly, she writes about enslaved African Americas who could fly, but forgot that they could.

“My ancestors were brought here to America, and maybe they wanted to go back, but couldn’t,” she says. “Me? I am able to fly. The fact that I am able to do these things, to fly when they couldn’t, gives me a strength and a purpose to make this project a reality. Flying is a metaphor for freedom, and it is an important theme in our project’s structure.”

Abioto asks her interviewees where they are from, where they are going, what is important in their lives, their dreams as a child, how they inspire others, and “Have you ever dreamed of flying?”

They post their results – through videos, photographs and writing – on their blog-style website, In addition, Kalimah Abioto is creating a full documentary film on the project. More information on the entire project is here.

“Most people are very receptive, and you wouldn’t believe how many different stories we hear,” Abioto explains. “It’s great to just talk to people. This whole project has expanded our minds so much.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Faculty, Staff Guest Speakers at Sunday Salon Series

Laurel Appel, visiting associate professor of biology and director of the McNair program, teaches participants how to extract DNA from wheat germ during the Green Street Arts Center’s Sunday Salon Series, hosted by David Beveridge, pictured in back.
Posted 03/17/08
In the 18th century, educated people in the upper reaches of society would meet at a “salon” to discus their ideas and observations. Today, this tradition continues without the pretentious aristocratic trappings at the Green Street Art Center’s Sunday Salon Series.

During the two-hour sessions held on Sundays throughout the academic year, Wesleyan faculty and staff speak to a general audience about a particular topic. Presentations usually include a demonstration, with plenty of time for questions and socializing.

“We have very talented faculty at Wesleyan and this is a way for them to describe their work they are passionate about to a general community audience,” explains Salon Series host David Beveridge. “The salons also bring a certain quality of intellectual life to the Green Street Arts Center that Wesleyan can uniquely present.”

Beveridge, the University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics and professor of chemistry and GSAC board member, created the series in 2006 to merge the “town and gown” communities.

He invites faculty and staff from an array of academic disciplines, from art and music to science and literature.

The next Sunday Salon will involve a music showcase titled “Vocal Music of South India” on April 13. Vocalist B. Balasubrahmaniyan will be joined by artist-in-residence David Nelson on mridangam (percussion), and graduate student Garrett Field on electric mandolin, for a performance and discussion about South Indian music.

On May 11, the Wesleyan-staff band “The Remainders” will perform folk-rock tunes. John Meerts, vice president for finance and administration (guitar, blues harp, vocals), is joined by Joanne Agostinelli (vocals, guitar) and Joe Paolillo (bass) for an afternoon of acoustic folk rock. The short set will include songs by Bonnie Raitt, Allison Krauss, Bob Dylan and others. A question and answer session will follow.

Both events are from 2 to 4 p.m.

“The Sunday Salons provide a wonderful opportunity for the community to get to know the Wesleyan faculty and see them in a different light,” says Janis Astor del Valle, director of the Green Street Arts Center. “Ultimately, I think the Salon Series allows people to demystify Wesleyan in general. It’s very successful and we definitely intend to keep it going.”

Past Salons have included:
– Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, chair of the Astronomy Department and director of the Van Vleck Observatory who spoke on the modern discoveries in the universe.
– J. Seeley, professor of art, who discussed his digital still life photography compositions.
– Ganesan Ravishanker, associate vice president for Information Technology Services, who discussed and sang Indian film music.
– J ohn Finn, professor of government, who has a degree in culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute and taught the audience the art of omelet making, among several others. Finn is pictured below.

“Even for those of us who know certain professors, it offers us a chance to see another side, or discover some hidden talent,” Astor del Valle says. “I mean, I never knew of John Finn’s culinary expertise, and here he was flipping omelets with our audience! Where else can you have that experience?”

Two Salon Series guests, fiction and non-fiction author Sari Rosenblatt and drummer Jocelyn Pleasant are now teaching at Green Street.

“I call them ‘spin-offs’ because the Salon Series is what introduced them to Green Street, and now they are very involved at the center,” Beveridge says. “We’d like to see more of this happen.”

The Sunday Salon Series runs throughout the academic year. Astor del Valle and Beveridge estimate between 10 and 60 guests attend each salon. They hope future salons will attract Wesleyan students and residents of the local neighborhoods.

Admission to the Sunday Salon Series is a donation $5 for the general public or $3 for GSAC members, seniors and students. Refreshments are provided. Green Street Arts Center is located at 51 Green Street in Middletown. For more information call 860-685-7871.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

The Wesleyan Connection: Campus Snapshot

CLIMATE CHANGES: Jon Dickinson, the New York City Office of Environmental Coordination deputy director, delivers the keynote address for Focus the Nation, a nation-wide day of education, discussion and activism to address climate change, in Memorial Chapel Jan. 31. Wesleyan was one of 1,550 universities, schools, businesses, and places of worship that took part in Focus the Nation. Dickinson focused on proposed climate change, air and water quality, transportation and clean energy initiatives in the New York City area.

To a full chapel audience, Dickinson said New York City’s goal is “to have the cleanest air quality of every city in America.” New York City currently has four times more air pollution than the average U.S. city, he explained. By 2030, the city plans to plant 1 million trees and eliminate 3,000 tons of soot in the air each year. The city has plans to implement cleaner, more reliable power, upgrade the transportation system and have 99 percent of all city residents living within a 10 minute walk to an open land or recreation area. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

In addition to the keynote address, Wesleyan faculty included topics of climate change in their course material for the day; Long Lane Farm and Bon Appetit served a sustainable dinner at the Usdan University Center; Jeffrey Wolfe of GroSolar presented An Inconvenient Truth Slideshow; the Environmental Organizer’s Network (EON) co-sponsored a film, Circus for a Fragile Planet; EON led three panels on policy response, corporate and intuitional response and climate and social justice. On Jan. 30, Wesleyan took part in “The 2% Solution,” a live and interactive webcast featuring Stephan Schneider, sustainability expert Hunter Lovins, green jobs pioneer Van Jones, and renowned actor Edward Norton.