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Students Receive Fellowships to Continue Research on Seizures, Genetics

Matthew Donne ’07, Jenna Gopilan ’07 and Dan Austin ’08 received fellowships based on academic achievement and enthusiasm for laboratory science.
Posted 12/20/06
Three Wesleyan students received research bioscience fellowships from the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) and the Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE). The fellowships are designed to increase the number of qualified scientists interested in pursuing careers in the biosciences.

Molecular biology and biochemistry major Dan Austin ’08; neuroscience and behavior major Jenna Gopilan ’07; and biology major Matthew Donne ’07 each received the $5,000 fellowship. The students were selected on the basis of academic achievement, enthusiasm for laboratory science and interest in pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or biomedical manufacturing industry.

Austin and Gopilan work under the direction of Jan Naegele, chair of the Biology Department, professor of biology and professor of neuroscience and behavior. Donne works under the direction of Laura Grabel, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science and professor of biology.

Austin, of Williston, Vt., will examine how a brain-specific enzyme called STEP, influences
the vulnerability of hippocampal neurons injured by seizures. One type of hippocampal neuron that produces STEP is thought to act as the “brakes” to prevent excessive excitation and seizures. These STEP-containing neurons are among the earliest cells to die in seizures, and preventing their death might be a way to limit seizure activity. He will use cultures made from the hippocampus of STEP knockout mice or wildtype mice to study whether STEP-deficient neurons survive excitotoxic damage better than neurons containing STEP.

“It is our hypothesis that the presence or absence of certain proteins dictates which cells survive in the brain,” Austin says. “We hope that this project may contribute to determining a new therapeutic approach to treat epilepsy.”

Gopilan, of Los Angeles, Calif., also aims to understand seizures. With the CURE grant, she will continue her research on “The Role of Serotonin in Adult Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus of Wildtype and DNA Repair Deficient Mice.”

Gopilan will use an epilepsy model in mice to study how neural stem cells respond to damage caused by epileptic seizures. Previous work in the Naegele laboratory showed that seizures produce a strong increase in the production of new neurons in the adult brain, from populations of neural stem cells located in the hippocampus. The mice she studies lack a DNA repair protein that may be critical for maintaining neural stem cell populations in the brain. This research study will help her understand how DNA repair, serotonin and seizures interact to regulate stem cells. Gopilan will extract neural stem cells from the hippocampus after seizures and grow them in tissue culture to define serotonin’s effect on the birth and growth of hippocampal neurons.

“This project will be beneficial in recognizing the different factors involved in repairing the brains of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy,” Gopilan explains.

Donne, of Litchfield, Conn., hopes to use his fellowship to characterize the extraembryonic cell types present in human embryonic stem cell embryoid bodies and to generate outgrowth cultures on different extracellular matrix substrates that reflect in vivo conditions. To determine the cell types present, Donne will be using immunohistochemistry and specific cell type markers.

“Such research in the future can be applied to determining the specific genetic basis for miscarriages and other early fetal or placenta relationships,” Donne says.

Austin, Gopilan and Donne are three of 10 students from Wesleyan, the University of Connecticut and the University of New Haven, to receive the fellowships. Results of their research will be presented at StemCONN 07, Connecticut’s Stem Cell Research International Symposium, to be held at the State Capitol on March 27, 2007.

The fellowship program is made possible through a U.S. Department of Labor H-1B grant being administered by CBIA. The CBIA is Connecticut’s largest business organization with 10,000 members. CURE is a statewide coalition of over 100 educational and research institutions, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and other supporting businesses.

Both organizations are dedicated to promoting the growth of research and science in Connecticut.

“This fellowship program helps Connecticut continue to have the highly educated workforce needed to remain competitive in bioscience, while keeping the brightest students in the state,” says Judith Resnick, CBIA director of workforce development and training, and the deputy director of the association’s Education Foundation.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Professor, Student Study Children’s Ability to Count

In back, Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, works with her student, Ariel Ballinger ’07, on data resulting from a study on children’s counting ability.
Posted 12/20/06
“So many people have had one of those moments, when a check comes after dinner and they’re having a problem adding it up, and they stop and say, ‘I’m just not any good at math!” says Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology. “But they are. We all are. We’re born with it.”

This isn’t just an opinion from an overly-optimistic academic. Barth is one of a growing number of researchers studying intuitive understanding of numbers. So far, they’ve established that human beings and even many other species are born with impressive mathematical abilities.

“Studies have shown that animals who have no language can think about quantities approximately – for example, rats can be trained to press a key about 40 times. And babies, who haven’t learned a language yet, can tell that adding 5 toys and 5 more toys gives you about 10 toys,” Barth says. “But animals and babies can’t count. Counting takes language.”

And counting isn’t as simple as you might think. Preschool children quickly learn to count to 10, but it takes them a while to figure out the purpose of counting.

“If I asked a child who has recently learned to count to 10 to go to the toy box and get four dinosaurs, the child will probably just give me a handful,” Barth says.

Most children learn the concept of “one” soon after learning to count. Typically, about six months after that, they comprehend the idea of “two” and about six months later they understand “three.”

“Studies have established that once children understand the concept of three it usually clicks for all the other numbers,” Barth says.

So, counting may be tougher than parents realize. But arithmetic, on the other hand, may be easier than you think! Barth confirmed this with a study published in 2005 based on work completed at Harvard University.

The study, titled “Abstract number and arithmetic in preschool children,” published in an issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that preschoolers can add big sets approximately long before they learn how to add big numbers exactly in school.

In the study, Barth showed pre-school children graphics with blue colored dots, covered them for a few moments, then showed them an array of a similar number of red dots. Then Barth asked the children which set – blue or red – had more dots. She also showed them two successive arrays of dots and asked them if the aggregate number was larger or smaller than a third array of dots. In another permutation, the dots were replaced by sounds, to make sure children weren’t just using visual imagery to solve the problem.

“The children were consistently able to recognize the differences between the dot sets, even in the tasks that included adding the dots,” Barth says. “The sets were too big for these kids to count, yet they had no problems recognizing which sets, when combined, would be larger than the third set. And we didn’t find any differences in gender: girls were just as adept at this as boys.”

One of Barth’s students, Ariel Ballinger ’07, designed a separate study based on Barth’s work thanks to a Fellowship from the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences. The fellowship provides a stipend so students can undertake full-time research during the summer.

“There’s no way I could’ve done a study like this without help from the Hughes Program,” Ballinger says.

Her study, titled “Counting, Estimation and Approximate Nonverbal Addition in Young Children,” is a new examination of number approximation in children who’ve reached different levels of verbal counting ability.

“Some previous studies done by Jennifer Lipton and Elizabeth Spelke at Harvard showed that a child’s ability to estimate numbers is related to verbal counting range,” Ballinger says. “Children were shown pictures containing different numbers of dots and asked to quickly guess how many there were, without counting. These studies showed that kids who could count to 100 guessed pretty well. But kids who could only count to 30, for example, could only guess well for sets of up to 30 dots. For bigger sets, they had no idea – they didn’t even give bigger estimates for 100 dots than for 40 dots.”

“But these studies often averaged the performance of large groups of children with very different levels of counting skill. I wanted to test this relationship by looking at more specific groups.”

Ballinger divided her children into three groups based on counting ability. She found that although counting ability was related to the accuracy of the guesses, even children who could only count to 30 guessed bigger numbers for bigger sets of dots.

“This went against the previous findings,” Barth says. “Children do seem to understand the rough meanings of big number words like 80 or 90 even before they can count that high.”

Ballinger’s study has been accepted for a presentation at a professional meeting. She will present her research at the annual meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, held in Boston in March. Barth will present another research project completed with Ballinger and AnjaLi Carrasco ‘07, Rachel Jacobson ‘08, and Jessica Tsai ‘07.

“It’s great to be at a place like Wesleyan where undergrads can get involved with ongoing faculty research,” Ballinger says.

Ballinger will continue to work with Barth in the next semester gathering more data for her thesis.

Barth has been working with local children – who are rewarded with stickers and prizes for participating, and their parents are compensated for travel expenses – and has recently entered into an arrangement with some local schools.

“We assure parents that we aren’t ‘testing’ the children to see how good they are at math, but rather, finding out how kids in general think about numbers,” Barth says. “There are educational implications as well. “Understanding these abilities better will help us figure out the most effective ways to teach kids.”

Barth’s Cognitive Development Lab is always looking for new participants. Interested people may visit the lab Web site at, call 860-685-3588, or email

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations. Photo by Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Student-Created Online Magazine Pushes Readers to Take Actions

Rebecca Littman ’08, Thomas Coen ’07, Stacie Szmonko ’07 and Aaron Sussman ’07 are the editors of Incite Magazine, which aims to bridge political commentary with the activist community.
Posted 12/20/06
The power of insight, the power to incite. That’s the motto of a new magazine created by Wesleyan students that links progressive political commentary with action.

Incite Magazine founded by Thomas Coen ‘07, Aaron Sussman ‘07 and Rebecca Littman ‘08, features articles that call for a compassionate and honest world while providing readers with the tools and resources to help fight for it. The magazine is updated online as new content is edited at and augmented by a periodically-published print edition.

Launched Nov. 20, Incite was founded by with a grant from Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress. The Wesleyan Student Assembly also supports the not-for-profit publication.

According to the magazine’s mission statement,“ Incite Magazine is a collaboration among students at Wesleyan who believe that progressive ends must be realized through free exchanges of ideas, opinions, and critiques that are then applied to action.” The editors not only aim to offer incisive, well-researched commentary and bold, responsible reporting, but to provide a network for writers and activists who share progressive principles and to conclude each article with information on how to become active and involved.

“We started Incite Magazine because we saw a gap between the political commentary community and the activist community,” Coen says.  “We wanted to bridge that divide –so that people don’t just analyze what the problems are, but also connect that to what people can do about those problems, how they can work to make the world a better place.”

Connecting the article with action is what sets Incite apart from other online magazines, Sussman explains. At the end of every article is a “What You Can Do About It” segment.

“I will often read an article in the progressive press that exposes the truth and evokes anger. But the next step is asking, ‘what can I do about this?’” Sussman says. “Every article in Incite, provides ways for readers to get involved in social action, whether that is writing to Congress, contacting local media or joining a demonstration.”

The editors also encourage readers to submit their own views.

Incite has eight sections including Iraq, The Constitution, The Media, Domestic Politics, Foreign Policy, Labor and Economics, Science and Technology and Activism. Under each of these headings, readers will find articles on that topic. For example, under the Science & Technology heading, Leah Katz writes about “Arming Women in the Battle Against HIV/AIDS: The Case for Microbicides,” and under the Foreign Policy heading, Coen writes about “A Life-Long Supply of Genocide” and “Bush’s Democracy Doctrine.”

Sussman’s article “They Hate Our Freedom: The Truth About the Military Commissions Act,” under The Constitution section, was picked up by at least six other publications and was an official source on Google News.

On the magazine’s online version, readers can listen to several interviews conducted by members of the Incite staff. Coen and Ben Levinger have posted their interviews of Ned Lamont, Connecticut’s former democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate and Emily Biuso, internship director for The Nation, and others. Sussman has posted many interviews, including with Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war peace activist and Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU.

In addition, the Web site offers an overabundance of useful links to sites on Iraq, law and human rights, media resources, media activists, government watchdogs, think tanks and other online magazines. It also features an action calendar, which includes upcoming events that involve political activism, advocacy or expression.

“Incite wants to be a resource for several activist groups, and be used as a tool to connect them to the Wesleyan, Middletown, and broader community,” Littman says.

The editors each have extensive experience with activism and journalism, ranging form working as a page in the U.S. Senate to interning with the ACLU and People for the American Way to studying political policy in Uganda and Cameroon. Additionally, Sussman has had articles  published in several publications including, the Atlantic Free Press,, Eat the State! and In Motion Magazine.

Since three of the four editors will be graduating this spring, they are seeking writers, editorial staff, activists, photographers, designers and technology and Web specialists. The editors hope younger members of the Wesleyan community will take over the reigns in future years.

Stacie Szmonko ’07 is the publication’s editor-in-chief. She hopes the experience with Incite will lead her to a career with a political magazine after college. Meanwhile, it’s an ideal way to gain experience and voice her opinions.

“I’ve always had a deep interest in progressive politics, critiquing the mainstream media and writing argumentative articles,” she says. “We hope new writers will join our discussion and help us create a magazine and community that can positively influence the way we see the world and our own potential to change it – something that can Incite true progress.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Wesleyan University Press Receives NEA Grant for Poetry

Posted 12/20/06
Wesleyan University Press will be the recipient of a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant was awarded “for the publication, promotion and distribution of new collections of poetry.”

The press requested support for the publication and promotion of 12 poetry books that will be published in the Wesleyan Poetry Series in 2007 and 2008. Forthcoming titles to be covered by the grant include New and Collected Poems by Barbara Guest, a new edition of Victor Segalen’s modernist classic Stèles, and Zong by Marlene NourbeSe Philip.

“We are delighted that the NEA is recognizing the importance of Wesleyan’s program, explains Suzanne Tamminen, director of Wesleyan University Press. “Their support will not only help us cover publishing costs; it will aid in our marketing efforts,”

Leslie Starr, assistant director and marketing manager, says a portion of the NEA funds will go towards the press’s Web site development. The press hopes to reach a larger student audience, and to increase the course adoption of its poetry books by utilizing the Web.

To this end, new Web pages will be designed for a select group of Wesleyan poetry books, specifically to enhance their usefulness in the classroom setting.

“These pages will provide context for the books, links to author interviews, reviews, and audio clips, as well as essay topics and suggested further reading,” Tamminen says.

The Press’s staff consists of Tamminen, Starr, Stephanie Elliott, publicist; and Eric Levy, senior editor. Their office is located at 215 Long Lane in Middletown, across from the Physical Plant building.

Wesleyan University Press is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2007. The press is best known for its poetry series, which has included such notable poets as James Dickey, James Wright, Robert Bly, Marge Piercy, Ellen Bryant Voigt and Yusef Komunyakaa, among others.

The press has continued the tradition of publishing top-notch poetry, having won the 2004 National Book Award for poetry, for Jean Valentine’s Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003, and the 2006 International Griffin Poetry Prize, for Kamau Brathwaite’s Born to Slow Horses.

For more information visit

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

9 Students Compete in National Math Competition

At left, Daniel Greengard ’08, Albert Hill ’07 and David Pollack, assistant professor of mathematics, work through problems, which were part of the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition held Dec. 2.

Posted 12/20/06
During a recent mathematics test, which spanned six hours, Daniel Greengard ’08 believes he only got one question completely correct out of 12.

But getting only one question correct puts him in the top half of all test-takers, explains David Pollack, assistant professor of mathematics and faculty-advisor for the 67th Annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition held Dec. 2.

The Putnam exam tests originality and technical competence, and contestants are expected to be familiar with formal theories embodied in undergraduate mathematics. All the necessary work to justify an answer and all the necessary steps of a proof must be shown clearly to obtain full credit.

Greengard was one of nine Wesleyan students who competed in the national competition. The annual contest began in 1938 and is designed to stimulate a healthy rivalry in mathematical studies in the colleges and universities of the United States and Canada.

“Since the Putman problems come from many different areas of mathematics, occasionally we see a problem that somehow relates to a course that one of us is taking, but rarely do theorems from the course help,” says Greengard, a mathematics major who has competed three times. “Only basic knowledge of math is needed to solve most of the problems. For solving the Putnam problems, creativity and cleverness are much more helpful than knowledge of math.”

Although practicing for the test is not necessary, Pollack ran Putnam practice sessions every Friday afternoon.

“The practice sessions allow the students to work through similar problems together and share ideas with one another,” Pollack says.

But during the test, they compete as individuals, which involves taking two, three-hour examinations under the supervision of a mathematics faculty member. Since the test grading is extensive, results won’t be posted until April 2007.

Prizes are awarded to the institutions with the five winning teams. The top three teams receive cash prizes of $15,000 to 25,000. The five highest ranking individuals are designated Putnam Fellows by the Mathematical Association of America.

Putnam exam-taker Albert Hill ’07, who is double majoring in mathematics and music, says most of the problems can be solved without using anything above linear algebra and multi-variable calculus. He recommends anyone who enjoys thinking creatively about intricate math problems would enjoy taking the exam.

“These aren’t problems you find on homework,” Hill says. “These require multi-level, multi-step thinking and are much more interesting.”

The competition is open only to regularly enrolled undergraduates, in colleges and universities of the United States and Canada, who have not yet received a college degree. No individual may participate in the competition more than four times.

The other students who competed this year include Jacob Goldin ’07, Daniel Hore ’07, Surendra Kunwar ’10, Jamie Macia ’07, Isaac Levy ’09, Yudhishthir Kandel ’09 and Nathan Fieldsteel ’10.

The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition is administered by The Mathematical Association of America.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

WESU General Manager Asks Listeners to Take the Pledge

Benjamin Michael, general manager of WESU 88.1 FM spearheads the Second Annual WESU Holiday Pledge Drive.
Posted 12/04/06
As the only full-time employee and sole general manager of Wesleyan’s college and community radio station, Benjamin Michael says the station wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of the station’s volunteers.

It takes Michael and 115 student and community volunteers to broadcast 88.1 FM WESU 24 hours a day.

“It’s a real partnership and labor of love for all of our volunteers,” Michael says, noting that some programs have been broadcasting for more than 25 years.

But, like any other non-commercial station, it takes more than teamwork to make a radio station run. It costs about $75,000 a year to operate, and that’s why Michael and his volunteers are currently hosting the Second Annual WESU Holiday Pledge Drive through Dec. 4.

“Unlike the National Public Radio pledge drives that you hear on WESU through out the year, where the station only receives a small portion of the over all donations, this drive enables listeners to directly support our efforts,” Michael explains. “We’re hoping that listeners who depend on WESU for alternative music, news and other creative programming, to step up to the plate and support this rare outlet for community voices on the radio.”

The goal for this year’s drive is to raise $25,000 in listener support to sustain operating expenses through out the coming year. So far this year, WESU has already raised $25,000 in funding from the Wesleyan Student Association, and through their partnership with WSHU Public Radio, WESU expects to raise an additional $25,000 before the fiscal year’s end.

Financial support during this pledge drive will help ensure that WESU continues to grow and operate as a vehicle and partnership for creative communications between the Wesleyan University community, the people of the greater Connecticut River Valley, and beyond. Donations will directly benefit WESU and help to ensure local, community-based programs and alternative news continue to have a home on the radio dial, Michael says.

As the GM, Michael works with the station’s volunteers to insure the programming reflects the diverse community surrounding Wesleyan.

WESU boasts a wide variety of musical programming including shows that feature folk, jazz, soul, blues, rock, Caribbean, hip hop, experimental, electronic, gospel, oldies and Latin music. The station also offers a robust public affairs line-up that includes programs from National Public Radio, Pacifica and other independent and local alternative news consortiums.

Michael knows the importance of volunteers from personal experience. Since a teenager, he’s always been dedicated to the arts and community service.

About 10 years ago, Michael worked for the national community service program through AmeriCorps at the East Bay Conservation Corps in Oakland, Calif. The former Middletown resident returned to the area and took up a job at Oddfellows Playhouse as a program manager, a stage and sound designer and teacher.

In 1997 he began volunteering with WESU, and worked his way up to technical director, promotion’s director and most recently consulting general manager. He was hired full-time as general manager in October 2005.

“I have always had an intense passion for exploring and learning about all types of music and a history of community service,” Michael says. “Thankfully WESU was around as a vehicle enabling me to connect my passions.”

Michael has hosted several shows on WESU. His first show, “Difficult Learning” aired between 3 and 5 a.m. Sunday morning. For the past seven years, he has produced a program called “Dub Revolution,” focusing on a specific vein of reggae music from Jamaica. Six years ago, he and local resident Garnett Ankle started up a talk show on current events titled “Talk for Your Rights.” Ankle continues to host this show.

Being the chief operator of a federally regulated operation, Michael is on call 24-7. He is responsible for managing the day to day technical and administrative operations of the station and ensuring that WESU operates in full compliance with FCC regulations. He acts as the liaison between the Wesleyan administration, the station’s Board of Directors, Wesleyan students and community volunteers and the station’s listeners. In addition, Michael serves as WESU’s “Mr. Fix It.”

“Some days, in addition to the daily routine, I might have to repair a broken CD player, or work with our engineering team to trouble shoot transmission problems, while other times I have to use my graphic, Web and sound design skills,” he says. “I do lots of digital audio editing on a daily basis.”

Michael encourages the station’s listeners to show their support by calling 860-685-7700 or downloading and printing a pledge form from the station’s Web site Donations also can be sent to WESU 88.1 FM at 45 Broad Street, 2nd Floor, Middletown, CT 06457.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Students Pedal for Affordable Housing

Five Wesleyan students will participate in the Habitat for Humanity Bicycle Challenge this summer. Each biker is trying to raise $4,000 for the cause.
Posted 12/04/06
Five Wesleyan students will pedal to help the cause of more affordable home-ownership this summer, raising funds and awareness for Habitat for Humanity coast-to-coast.

The students, led by Jessalee Landfried ’07, will bike 70 miles a day, hoping to cross the entire country in two months. Landfried will be accompanied by Elizabeth Ogata ‘09, Liana Woskie ‘10, Margot Kistler ‘09 and Shira Miller ‘07, along with 90 other students from Yale University.

This is the 13th year Yale has hosted the Habitat Bicycle Challenge (HBC) and Wesleyan came aboard this year.

“The trip is essentially a large-scale service project with a strong commitment to supporting Habitat for Humanity,” Landfried says.

Before leaving, each rider will raise $4,000 – approximately a dollar for every mile biked – for Habitat for Humanity. Every night, the riders will give presentations and answer questions in churches and community centers, trying to increase Habitat’s visibility, stimulate the formation of new chapters and encourage donations.

The event will generate approximately $430,000 in proceeds, enough to underwrite the construction of eight Habitat homes.

Each year, the Habitat Bicycle Challenge not only raises more money for Habitat than any other student-run fundraiser in the country, it introduces thousands of people to the good work that Habitat for Humanity does. Last year, the students raised $430,000.

Landfried learned about the challenge from a teammate in the Americorps.

“My team leader had just finished HBC, and said it was the most exciting, challenging, fun thing she’d ever done,” she says. “I chose to become a leader this year because I’m excited by the opportunity to have an adventure and do something really amazing for a great organization.”

The riders can choose a northern, central or southern route to the west coast. All three routes depart from New Haven, Conn. on June 1, and they end in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, respectively.

Landfried and Miller will ride the central route, biking across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho before reaching Portland, Oregon. Kistler will be on the northern trip and Ogata and Woskie will ride the southern trip.

Ogata chose to participate to combine meaningful service work with a journey across the country. This will be her second trek across the U.S.

“Several summers ago, I biked across the country for my own enjoyment,” she says. “Although the trip was amazing, the Habitat Bicycle challenge really excites me because it has the purpose of helping other people in all parts of the country.”

The students will sleep in churches and community centers along the way. In every community where they spend the night, the riders will give a short slideshow presentation about Habitat, the trip, and the goal of ending poverty housing. These venues generally supply meals for the riders.

“When biking all day long, most people need around 6,000 calories a day – so we’re going to be hungry,” Landfried says.

During the ride, every route is accompanied by a support van, which carries the bikers’ clothing and necessities. When they reach their destinations, the van will bring the riders back to Connecticut along with their bikes.

In exchange for raising $4,000 per rider, the bikers receive a free road bike, deep discounts on gear, and free room and board for the duration of the trip. The bike, gear discounts and food are provided for by corporate sponsorships that the leaders arrange over the course of the year.

Since most of the riders are recreational riders who are excited by the combination of adventure and service, every rider is expected to start training once they receive their bike.

Landfried says she bikes about 50 miles a week now, and is training for the trip by increasing the number of miles every week.

But having the physical ability is minor to having the mental ability.

“The prospect of biking across the country is certainly daunting,” Landfried says. “My parents won’t even drive that far! But I try to keep reminding myself that students have been completing the trip for more than a decade now, and that if they could do it, so can I.”

Landfried says her energy is currently too focused on securing corporate sponsorships, individual fundraising, planning the route and arranging housing to get too worried about the biking itself.

The bikers will spend at least one day a week working on various habitat home sites along their journey west.

Miller says the tip may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I’m doing the trip because I can’t imagine a more unique way to explore the country, or a better time to do it than right after graduating college,” she says. “It is a great personal experience because I know I will be supporting a social cause that is important to me while pushing my limits and having a great time.”

In addition to raising awareness and funds for Habitat, Landfried says she has other goals in mind.

“I hope to gain a greater appreciation for the vastness and diversity of our country, to meet interesting new people, to have fun, and to develop quads the size of a football,” she says.

The Wesleyan fund-raisers are currently accepting donations to support their efforts. They plan to hold fund-raising events later in the year. For more information on making a donation, visit or email Jessalee Landfried at

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Men’s Cross Country Competes at Nationals for Second Straight Year

The men’s cross country team encountered a muddy course at the Division III NCAA National Championships Nov. 18, however finished in the top half. (Photos by Steve Maheu)
Posted 12/04/06
The Wesleyan Men’s Cross Country team overcame an uneven season of performances to finish in the top half of the field at the Division III NCAA National Championships in Ohio on Nov 18.

“We started off running instead of racing,” Men’s Head Coach John Crooke says about the early part of the season. “It’s quite simply competing. Cross country is not about time, it’s about place. When you race, you are competing, not running.”

The team had three mediocre efforts in its first three tests of the season, dipping from 10th to 14th in the New England Open, coming up short of both Williams and Amherst in the Little Three meet and placing a disappointing fifth of 11 in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) meet.

“I would say we had a roller-coaster season,” Matt Shea ’08 says. “I feel like we lost some of our morale in the middle of the season.”

Some, but not all. A little more than two weeks after their disappointing showing at the NESCAC meet, the men placed 4th out of 45 teams at the New England Division III Regional Championships in Springfield, Mass. Out of 309 total finishers, the Wesleyan scoring five finished: 17th Alex Battaglino ’07; 24th Anda Greeney ’07; 34th Sean Watson ’08; 43rd Jon King ’07; and 47th Mike Brady ‘07.

“We really put our best team race together when it counted at regionals with a 34-second spread from one to five and less than a minute from one to seven,” says Brady.

The top two teams at the event, Williams and Bowdoin, received automatic bids to the NCAA National Championship meet. Wesleyan’s outstanding performance earned the team an at-large bid to the 32-team field. It was the school’s second-ever invite to the nationals, the first coming last year.

“I was exceptionally proud of how we never gave up and we were able to come together as a team and have great races at both regionals and nationals,” says Shea.

Nationals were hosted by Wilmington College in Ohio and held at the Voice of America Park in West Chester on Nov. 18th. Wesleyan athletics director John Biddiscombe, who attended the event, described them as “some of the worst conditions for a sporting event I have ever seen.” Days of torrential rain had left the ground saturated and muddy with standing water inches deep throughout the course.

“Course conditions were nuts,” says Anda Greeney. “Cross country is about running in all types of weather, but this being Nationals, you’d think they would choose a place that wasn’t sitting at or under the water table.”

Overall, the Cardinal finished 15th – ahead of Bowdoin (17th) and Trinity (31st); Williams (7th) was the only New England school to finish higher than Wesleyan. Watson posted the team’s best individual performance, crossing the finish line 67th out of 279 runners.

“Running at Nationals is an exciting experience,” Brady says. “The dinner, the free stuff, flying out to Ohio, the NCAA symbol painted on the grass near the starting area. It’s quite an atmosphere.”

By Brian Katten, sports information director

Professor Awarded Grant, Will Co-Direct State Stem Cell Facility

Laura Grabel, the Fisk Professor of Natural Sciences and professor of biology, received $878,348 for her study on embryonic stem cells.
Posted 12/04/06
Wesleyan and one of its researchers were major beneficiaries of the State of Connecticut’s initial round of nearly $20 million in grants to fund non-federally-sanctioned stem cell research.

The awarding of the grants was announced on November 22 in Hartford.

Wesleyan was a co-recipient with the University of Connecticut of $2.5 million dedicated for the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core Facility, which will be located in Farmington. Laura Grabel, the Fisk Professor of Natural Sciences and professor of biology, also received $878,348 for her study titled “Directing Production and Functional Integration of Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Neural Stem Cells.”

Grabel will also be co-director of the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core Facility with Ren-He Xu, associate professor and director of the human embryonic stem cell laboratory at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

“The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core Facility will be a world class facility that will be a tremendous benefit to the state’s residents as well as our faculty and students,” Grabel says. “It lets us maximize the available resources and gives researchers a dedicated space to work with the unapproved stem cell lines.”

The stipulation regarding unapproved stem cell lines is extremely important to stem cell researchers because of the federal guidelines. It is not illegal to work with these non-approved stem cell lines; in fact, researchers in private industry have been doing so for several years. However, researchers cannot use facilities or resources that have been paid for by federal funds for approved stem cell lines in conjunction with research on non-approved lines.

“Most of the researchers involved have received federal funding for their work on approved stem cell lines,” says Grabel, who has received NIH funding for her work with these lines. “To partition a lab and replicate much of the materials and resources that are dedicated to federally-funded work would be tremendously wasteful and extremely impractical. This facility will eliminate any chance of overlap.”

A similar facility will also be created at Yale with an identical $2.5 million state grant.

Grabel adds that use of these facilities will not be limited to the three universities who are being funded by the state’s stem cell initiative – Wesleyan, Yale and UConn.

“Students from all the universities and colleges in the state will have the opportunity to be trained there,” she says. “That’s another great advantage of this facility. We’ll be training a whole new generation of stem cell researchers.”

Grabel’s work at the facility will be based on the individual grant she received from the state. Her research focuses on how to improve the effect of stem cells can be implanted in the brain to replace damaged neurons.
“In some cases the stem cells become healthy neurons and reverse the damage,” she says. “But this doesn’t happen every time. Sometimes nothing is reversed. So we’ll be looking at why this occurs and how we might improve the chances of a positive outcome.”

When Grabel says “we” she is referring to her co-investigators, Janice Naegele, chair and professor of biology, professor of neuroscience, and Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology.

“We have some fantastic researchers here, and our capabilities and interests complement each other quite well,” Grabel says. “It’s really the strength of our research abilities that the state responded to by making us a partner in this initiative.”

Parts of the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core Facility in Farmington are already up and running. The rest should be fully operational in early 2007.

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations.

Grant to Fund Epileptic Seizure Study at Wesleyan

Gloster Aaron, Janice Naegele and Laura Grabel will study if stem cell-based treatment in mice brains could possibly control epileptic seizures in human brains.
Posted 12/04/06
A $300,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation will help a Wesleyan University researcher investigate the possibility of using brain transplants of embryonic stem (ES) cells to control epileptic seizures in mice. If successful the study could lay the early groundwork for using similar therapy in human beings.

Janice Naegele, chair and professor of biology and professor of neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan, is the principle investigator in the study that will bring together the expertise two other Wesleyan faculty – Laura Grabel, Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of biology, and Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology – as well as Gordon Fishell, professor of biology at New York University.

During the three-year study, Naegele and her colleagues will attempt to create GABAergic neurons from mouse ES cells and implant them in the brains of mice that experience epileptic seizures. The hope is that the new neurons derived from the grafted ES cells will be able to restore normal levels of the brain’s inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA by replacing GABAergic neurons destroyed by the epileptic seizures. GABA is one of the key chemical messengers in the brain that regulates the firing of neurons and prevents seizures.

“A lot of the focus in stem cell-based treatment is in treating neurodegenerative disorders,” Naegele says. “Due to ethical roadblocks in harvesting neural stem cells from human embryos, a preferred course is autologous donation – taking an individual’s own stem cells and using them to generate neural stem cells for treatment. However, in the case of some forms of inherited epilepsy, there a genetic defect in the neurons that causes the seizures. This defect is likely mirrored in the patient’s stem cells, which is one reason why we are focusing on using non-autologous cell lines.”

From a clinical perspective, animal epilepsy isn’t identical in all facets to human epilepsy. However, it is close enough that Naegele’s successful use of these GABAergic neurons to control seizures will go a long way to help scientists understand the potential treatment implications in humans.

For the study, the researchers will chemically induce the initial epileptic seizures in the mice. After two to three weeks, the mice develop spontaneous seizures, making the overall effect more similar to the way seizures occur in humans. The stem cell grafts will be made into the brains of transgenic mice that have fluorescent neurons, allowing the scientists to identify interactions between the cells in the grafts and the host brains using a combination of electrical recording and microscopic imaging. The studies will attempt to demonstrate that the grafted stem cells form connections with the host brain, a critical step for functional recovery from epilepsy.

To create the cells needed to potentially suppress the seizures, Naegele’s team will use a new method to produce high yield GABAergic neurons.

“We plan to use molecular-genetic approaches to get the neural stem cells to express a sequence of transcription factors that will regulate the genes required to produce the GABAergic neurons,” Naegele says. “They will then be transplanted to the mouse hippocampus and then we’ll see if they have enough genetic information to act properly.”

Along with the faculty mentioned, this three-year study will also involve post-doctoral students, graduate, and undergraduate students at Wesleyan who will be assisting with components of the research.

“This is really exciting because it is bringing together three labs here and a lab down at NYU,” Naegele says. “The expertise at each complements the others. It’s a more risky study than others in this area, but the potential information we can generate will really be useful as we move forward investigating if this can be an effective treatment for epileptic seizures.”

In addition to supporting this collaboration, Naegele will participate in a yearly McKnight Conference on Neuroscience, which fosters interactions among the awardees of all of their programs. This year’s conference will be held in the June 2007 in Aspen, Colorado and will focus on music, art, and the brain.

According to their Web site, The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience is an independent charitable organization established by The McKnight Foundation to carry out the wishes of its founder, William L. McKnight (1887-1979), who led the 3M company for three decades. McKnight had a personal interest in memory and its diseases. He chose to set aside part of his legacy to bring hope to those suffering from brain injury or disease and cognitive impairment. The Neuroscience of Brain Disorders Awards were established in 2000 as the Memory and Brain Disorders Awards. Each year, up to six awards are given. Awards provide $100,000 per year for three years. For more information go to

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations. Photo by Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Plous Named Connecticut Professor of the Year

Posted 12/04/06
Scott Plous, professor of psychology, was named the Connecticut Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

This designation means he is among only 43 professors working in the United States, the District of Columbia and Guam to be considered a 2006 U.S. Professor of the Year.

“It was quite a surprise, as you can imagine,” Plous says, modestly.

The goal of the U.S. Professors of the Year Program is to increase awareness of the importance of undergraduate instruction. In recognizing faculty members for their achievements as teachers, the award gives institutions an opportunity to celebrate excellence and provide models for faculty and students.

Plous, who joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1990, is an expert on psychology of prejudice and discrimination, decision making, and the human use of animals and the environment.

The CASE-Carnegie award is Plous’s second major teaching award. In 1998, he received Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Plous credits Ruth Striegel-Moore, the Walter A. Crowell University Professor of the Social Sciences and professor of psychology, for nominating him while she was chair of the Psychology Department.

“I’m deeply grateful to Ruth for her support of my teaching, and I also owe a huge debt to the wonderful teaching apprentices and course assistants I work with,” he says.

Plous is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association, and has been the recipient of several APA division awards, including the William James Book Award, for his book The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, the Otto Klineberg Intercultural and International Relations Award, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Award for Distinguished Service to the Society. In addition, he is a faculty associate of the Tufts University Center for Animals and Public Policy and is on the editorial board of Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.

The Professor of the Year program is the only national initiative specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

“One of the things that pleases me about the award is that Wesleyan held its own when compared with large research universities,” Plous says. “This reflects well on Wesleyan’s Instructional Media Services, library and support staff.”

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education began the program in 1981, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching became a partner and major sponsor the following year.

Winners of the award must meet the program’s demanding criteria. The primary characteristic the judges consider is an extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching demonstrated by the impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former undergraduate students.

For this achievement, Plous was invited to a congressional reception in Washington, DC, and given a framed certificate of recognition.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Green Street Director Loves to Engage the Community in the Arts

Janis Astor del Valle, director of the Green Street Arts Center, says the center’s people, young and old, keep her job interesting. She relies on the help of Wesleyan students to create a invigorating artsy environment at the center.
Posted 12/04/06
Q: When did you come to the Green Street Arts Center?

A: I first came on board in February 2006 as assistant director; then, when the director resigned in March, I became the interim director. I was promoted to director in June.

Q: How did you find out about the GSAC initially? What drew you towards working there?

A: About a year ago, my partner and I became engaged — I lived in the Bronx at that time and she was in Branford. Neither one of us wanted to make our home in New York, so I started job searching in Connecticut. I came across the Green Street job announcement on NY and immediately felt this was the position and place for me! I was drawn to the fact that it’s a project of Wesleyan and a community arts center designed to serve as an anchor for the city’s revitalization efforts. While in grad school, 2001-04, I had worked for the Point, a community arts center in the Bronx that actually served as a type of model for Green Street. But once I graduated, those looming student loans made me panic, and I took a job as a grants manager for a local arts council. After a year and a half there, I discovered I really missed working with children and the community in general. Green Street seemed like the perfect fit.

Q: Where are you from? Where did you grow up and go to college?

A: I’m a Bronx-born Puerto Rican – I don’t like to say Nuyorican, because I’m proud of my Bronx heritage! When I was 7, my family relocated to New Milford, Connecticut, where I lived until age 22. I started out at Western Connecticut State University, and then I took a year off and became a radio announcer for a local “Lite Music” station. I almost got fired for playing Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer and anything by Joni Mitchell. I was forced to stick to the playlist, which included such “hits” as The Carpenters’, Close to You, and Barry Manilow’s Tryin’ to Get the Feelin’ – needless to say, I wasn’t feeling it. So, I fled to New York City, in an attempt to recapture my Puerto Rican roots, and to finish college. I finally graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in 1988 with my bachelor’s of arts in theater. I received my MFA in film from Columbia University in 2004.

Q: What is your personal interest in the arts?

A: I am a writer/performer/filmmaker, but most of my experience has been in theater, as a playwright and actor.

Q: What is most exciting to you about working at the GSAC?

A: The people – our students, younger and older, the staff, faculty, Wesleyan student volunteers, the community itself. There’s a wealth of talent here, and they all inspire me on a daily basis. They’re also so incredibly dedicated.

Q: Green Street recently had a “growth spurt.” Can you elaborate?

A: We’ve more than doubled our enrollment in the After School Arts Program since last spring. We now have 53 children, 41 of whom attend five days a week. Adult classes like salsa and belly dancing are so popular that next semester we’re offering intermediate levels of each. Our weekend events – Open Mic, Coffeehouse, In the Limelight and Sunday Salons – have been attracting people of all ages from all over Middletown and beyond. It’s an incredibly exciting time for us.

Q: How do Wesleyan students get involved with Green Street?

A: Wesleyan students are so vital to us, especially to our After School Program. The offer homework help, they serve as teaching assistants, they facilitate free arts activities and are instrumental is helping us improve the program. Wesleyan students are the backbone to our program. They create an invigorating and fun-filled program.

Q: What are your personal goals for the arts center?

A: My penultimate goal is to have something happening in every room here from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. But that’s within five years.

Q: Does Green Street have any upcoming events scheduled?

A: A lot of cool events are coming up in the very near future. On Dec. 8, we are absolutely thrilled to present Wesleyan Vice president for Finance and Admininstration John Meerts and his band, The Remainders, as well as the Wesleyan student group, The High Lonesome. And on Dec. 15, Wesleyan alumna Amy Crawford brings her jazz ensemble to Green Street. On Jan. 20 from noon to 4 p.m. we’re hosting a Free Art Day, where people can check out our facility and get a taste of the some of the classes we’re offering this spring. The complete schedule will be on our Web site by Dec. 15, but in the meantime, I encourage anyone who’s interested in learning more about us to visit
Q: As the director, do you get to mingle with the kids much or are you mostly behind the scenes?

A: Unfortunately, I feel too much like a principal at times, making rounds. I do get to see some of the children’s performances, like the break dancing and tap classes. They’re amazing! I’d like to get involved in all the classes a bit more, even teach a section of creative writing. I started making a kaleidoscope with the art and science kids, but then I got called away for something, I can’t even remember what, and I never got to finish my kaleidoscope! I’m trying to arrange my schedule so that I can cut back on outside meetings and make myself more available to the children. I have started hosting the After School Program’s “Town Meeting” again, which occur every Thursday. That’s a great opportunity for me to check in with the kids, see what’s working for them or what areas of the program may need improvement, maybe go over certain rules that have been forgotten.

It’s also a chance for us to showcase student performances, because, let me tell you, we have quite a lot of little hams here! And rightly so, because they happen to be incredibly talented. In fact, save this date, Thursday, Dec. 21, our Winter Solstice, where we’ll highlight students from our After School and evening/weekend programs.

Q: What goes on in a typical day for you over at GSAC?

A: Meetings, e-mail, phone calls. Meetings, e-mail, phone calls. Meetings, e-mail, phone calls. In the After School Program, it’s a mix of intervention and counseling.

Q: Who are the key people on your staff, and how many volunteers are there?

A: My indefatigable staff: Lex Leifheit, assistant director; Jessica Carso, director of Development and Marketing; Cristina D’Alessandro, financial coordinator/registrar; Shane Grant, facilities coordinator; Rachel Roccoberton, administrative assistant; Cookie Quinones, After School assistant; and, Claudia Foerstal, front desk assistant.

Q: In your opinion, is Green Street a successful endeavor for the North End of Middletown? How is it making a difference for area youth?

A: I believe Green Street is indeed becoming the anchor for revitalization that it was intended to be. Ninety-six units of mixed income rental apartments are going up right next door. And it looks like affordable home ownership is on the horizon, too, as Nehemiah and Broadpark get closer to working out a deal to redevelop a number of properties on Green and Ferry streets. I don’t think either of those projects would have happened if we weren’t here. Not only do we have Wesleyan, and, in particular, President Doug Bennet, to thank for that, but our partners as well: the North End Action Team and the City of Middletown. Together, we are proving that we can and do transform lives through the arts.

Q: What is the energy like there?

A: You can feel it, in the spirit of the neighborhood, the parents, children and families who come through our doors. They’re excited to be here, and engaged in art, whether they’re recording a CD in our sound studio, or making a cross-cultural collage.

Q: What are your hobbies? When is your wedding?

A: I love to write, mostly plays and screenplays, and listen to music – everything from Tito Puente to Joni Mitchell. My significant other, Amy, and I are engaged and planning to wed in June. I have to have a June wedding, I’m corny like that, yo! We live in Branford.

Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your role at GSAC?

A: I feel incredibly blessed each and every day I come to work. It’s been 11 months, and I’m still pinching myself, making sure this isn’t all a dream because this truly is a dream job. And my staff, faculty and students make the dream a beautiful reality.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor