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New Vice President Will Focus on Diversity, Community


Janice Astor del Valle, left, director of the Green Street Arts Center, listens to Sonia BasSheva Mañjon, director of the Center for Art and Public Life at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, speak in Memorial Chapel during a campus visit Nov. 2. Mañjon will return to campus in July as Wesleyan’s new vice president for diversity and strategic partnerships.
Posted 02/01/08
President Michael Roth has appointed Sonia BasSheva Mañjon as vice president for diversity and strategic partnerships, a new position that will include leadership on civic engagement and cooperation with private and public organizations. Mañjon will work with Wesleyan’s leadership team to develop programs to attract, retain and inspire students, faculty and staff from groups currently under-represented on campus. She formally joins the university on July 1.

Mañjon comes to Wesleyan from the California College of the Arts (CCA) with more than 20 years experience in higher education and nonprofit administration and education. At CCA she was a member of the president’s cabinet, director for CCA’s Center for Art in Public Life, chair of its community art major and Diversity Studies Program, co-chair of campus diversity initiatives, and a member of the faculty. She recently developed the country’s first bachelor of fine arts program in community arts, which stresses student civic engagement and diversity issues. At CCA, Mañjon worked closely with Roth.

“I am very excited to work with Michael Roth once again,” Mañjon says. “He has been a tremendous colleague and leader. I look forward to joining the rest of the team at Wesleyan as we seek to implement civic engagement and service learning in a wider arena that incorporates community arts within the liberal arts more generally. I also feel proud to have the opportunity to work at an institution that has such a strong history of affirmative action and diversity.”

As Wesleyan’s vice president for diversity and strategic partnerships, Mañjon will be charged with enhancing the university’s outreach and engagement with the greater Middletown community. She will bring her expertise and experience to bear on the strategic planning for the Green Street Arts Center and other Wesleyan projects and programs within Middletown.

Mañjon will serve as Wesleyan’s affirmative action officer and direct the Office of Affirmative Action. She will be an advocate for the interests of students in such areas as recruitment, curriculum development, campus culture and career planning. She will partner with the directors of human resources to increase diversity within candidate pools and to support programs of thoughtful outreach. As a member of the president’s cabinet, Mañjon will provide advice, guidance and support to the president and the other vice presidents.

“I am delighted to have Sonia join our efforts at Wesleyan,” Roth says. “She is a tireless innovator with a very sophisticated sense of how to nurture existing relationships and create new partnerships with communities and constituencies of all sorts. She also has keen insights on how to use art and performance to forge new community relationships.”

Mañjon earned a Ph.D. in humanities, transformative learning and change in human systems and a M.A. in cultural anthropology and social transformation from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She received a B.A. in world arts and cultures with a dance emphasis from the University of California, Los Angeles.

In addition to her position at CCA, Mañjon has served as executive director of the City of Oakland’s Craft and Cultural Arts Department, director of the Community Arts and Education Program for the San Francisco Art Commission, and executive director of the San Francisco National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Mañjon currently lives in Oakland, California with her sons Zyan and Ezra.

Wesleyan Meets Mellon Foundation Challenge to Endow Fellowships in the Humanities at the Center for Americas


Wesleyan has secured a permanent endowment that will support the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at the Center for the Americas.
Posted 02/01/08
In 2004, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation challenged Wesleyan to raise $1.5 million over a three-year period. Wesleyan agreed — and recently succeeded.

As part of the challenge, the Mellon Foundation matched these funds to endow a permanent Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in the humanities within the Center for the Americas. Since 1998, postdoctoral fellows were hired on a year-to-year basis as grant funding allowed.

“The Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Program has become part of the very rhythm of the Center for the America’s existence, and the endowment ensures its permanence at the heart of our operation,” says Patricia Hill, professor of American studies and history. “This means that exciting young scholars working at the cutting edge of their fields will continue to offer Wesleyan students the opportunity to encounter new knowledge in areas not routinely represented in our curriculum.”

The new endowment will support a two-person cohort and offer them opportunities for scholarly research and professional development. Their appointments, which begin in July 2008, are renewable for a second year.

Faculty are already reviewing applications, and are seeking a cultural anthropologist or historian whose research focuses on indigenous peoples in North America and a cultural anthropologist or interdisciplinary scholar whose research examines cultural productions in Latin America, with a preference for a focus on Brazil or the Caribbean.

In the past decade, Mellon Fellows have contributed to the Center for the Americas in substantial ways, Hill explains. Some have conducted research, sharing their findings with faculty colleagues and Wesleyan students. Others have organized the center’s annual Americas Forum to address critical issues from a hemispheric vantage point. And yet other scholars have delivered audience-packed talks or participated in faculty colloquia.

Staff in University Relations sought support from a variety of outside sources, especially from alumni and friends interested in investing in the intellectual life of Wesleyan, specifically the humanities and Center for the Americas. The opportunity to add to Wesleyan’s endowment attracted four trustees to make significant gifts to the challenge.

“We are proud and pleased that our donors and the Mellon Foundation have joined together to once again support the comparative, interdisciplinary and international approach that encourages our students to explore the cultures and politics of the Americas in their hemispheric context,” says Claire Potter, chair of American Studies, director for the Center for the Americas, and professor of American studies and history. “The Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows have made invaluable contributions to our development of this comparative and hemispheric paradigm; the fellows have, in turn, thrived within the supportive structure and stimulating intellectual atmosphere at the Center for the Americas.”

The Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is designed to benefit the fellows and university alike. The fellows are offered intellectual interaction and professional development while on campus. Many of them gain their first teaching experience at Wesleyan, and others develop new pedagogical interests during the fellowship. Most go on to compete successfully for tenure-track jobs at prestigious institutions.

“Mellon Fellows have left Wesleyan familiar with a paradigm for the comparative study of the Americas that they could introduce at other institutions,” Potter says.

In addition, the fellows teach courses in their own areas of expertise, important fields that are currently not represented in regular university offerings. During the first year, each fellow will teach a small, research-related seminar and a larger lecture course that will offer students a broader understanding of the field. In the second year, each fellow will offer a self-designed course and team-teach a course with a comparative perspective.

The endowment provides fellows with an annual stipend, health benefits and research and travel funds. They are given office space in the Center for the Americas.

“Our hope has always been to see the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows create a vibrant intellectual community that supports young scholars, enrich the university curriculum, and contribute to the development of a hemispheric paradigm within the academy,” Potter says. “We believe that the program has exceeded the high expectations we had when we envisioned this productive, cooperative interaction between the fellows and the Center for the Americas, and we look forward to the next cohort of fellows to expand the impact of this successful partnership.”

Additional information on the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is online at: http://www.wesleyan.edu/americas/cams/mellon_postdoc.html.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Psychology Department Showcases New Laboratories


Barbara Juhasz, at right, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and behavior, explains eye-tracking data to guests during a roving lab event Jan. 23.
Posted 02/01/08
Three new psychology labs in Judd Hall allow faculty and students to study readers’ habits, to reveal insights into children’s’ minds and to help improve existing treatments for schizophrenia.The Department of Psychology hosted a roving lab event Jan. 23 to introduce the labs and showcase the extensive renovations that were completed to create customized multi-purpose facilities.

The renovations include Barbara Juhasz’s eye tracking lab on the fifth floor, Anna Shusterman’s child development lab on the fourth, and Matthew Kurtz’s cognitive testing and treatment lab for people with schizophrenia on the third floor.

Ruth Striegel-Moore, professor and chair of psychology, expressed her excitement about the spaces and her gratitude to Joe Bruno, vice president for academic affairs and provost, and David Bodznick, dean of natural sciences and mathematics, for their support.

“Joe supported what I consider a radical transformation of our space,” Striegel-Moore says. “The space is an exact execution of the design needs of the faculty.”

Striegel-Moore said that each of the renovations were a “wonderful example of what can be achieved when people work together for a common goal.”

“Wesleyan is committed to hiring outstanding faculty members with ambitious research agendas and a strong commitment to undergraduate education in the classroom and in the research laboratory,” Bruno says. “We are pleased to have hired several outstanding new faculty members in the department of psychology recently, and look forward to their contributions to the Wesleyan community.”

The fifth floor space was previously a holding area for animals involved in research and has largely been unused for years. Today, the floor that Striegel-Moore said used to be a “dingy dark space with a 1930s-feel” is now brightly lit and professional looking. The floor contains Juhasz’s office, three testing areas, a lounge, temporary faculty offices and the office of the department’s budget and grants coordinator.

Juhasz said she was especially happy to get the Eye Link 1000 eye-tracking machine installed (pictured at left). According to Juhasz, eye tracking used to be a technique that only a few people could do because the old, large machines used to be so expensive. With the new machine, researchers can record a reader’s eye movements every millisecond and learn more about sentence comprehension, compound word recognition and the overall process of reading.

“Having newly renovated labs to move into and generous funding to purchase equipment gives new faculty the opportunity to hit the ground running with their research and to involve undergraduates and graduate students in that research without significant delays,” Bodznick says.

The renovation led by Alan Rubacha, consultant in the construction services department, began in the spring of 2006 and was completed just before the fall semester began in 2006.

Brandi Hood, senior project coordinator in the construction services department, was responsible for the work on the fourth and third floors. Planning for the lower floors began in May 2007 and the renovations were completed by August 2007.

Hood said that her design challenge was to meet university standards while matching the rooms to her clients’ functional needs and stylistic requests. For example, although Hood doesn’t normally design children’s labs, Shusterman says she is pleased that the lab looks exactly as she intended it to look.

“The real challenge in a project of this nature is to quickly determine the faculty’s needs, formulate the design and execute the construction project within the time and space allocated,” Hood says.

The fourth floor looks very different from the animal facility it once was. One can’t help but notice the inviting, kid-friendly light blue walls. The new lab has a computer room for undergraduates, Shusterman’s office, a common area and two observation laboratories dedicated to child development experiments.

One particular challenge for Hood and Shusterman was creating the navigation room—a largely neutral 12-foot-by-12-foot room with a stimulus-free environment where children’s spatial reasoning abilities are tested. Not only did she need a room that could fit a customized off-white movable curtain, she needed everything in the room to be as symmetrical as possible so that kids could not use anything in the environment around them to assist them during the experiments. In fact, Shusterman requested that two vents be placed in the ceiling to match the vents already in existence.

“The room had to look the same no matter what area you’re looking at,” Hood says.

The third floor, which used to hold a sleep lab, now houses Kurtz’s office and two rooms outfitted with computers and used for research involving people with schizophrenia. The lab will be devoted to the cognitive and social-cognitive training of people with schizophrenia. Kurtz conducts assessments of patients associated with the Institute of Living in Hartford and plans to bring individuals with schizophrenia to his lab so they can participate in in-depth training programs to help improve any deficits they may have with attention, memory, problem solving and other cognitive and psychosocial functions.

Striegel-Moore said the design challenge for Kurtz’s space was to create “a warm, calm lab, nothing very institutional.”

“It’s an incredible space,” Kurtz says.

Bruno agrees.

“Our investment in facilities and equipment ensures that these colleagues will have the support they need for their research and teaching,” Bruno says. “It also provides for the best use of Judd Hall, an important part of Wesleyan’s brownstone row.”
 

By Corrina Balash Kerr, associate director of media relations. Photos by Olivia Drake.

Resource Specialist Manages Files, Information on All Faculty Members


Eloise Glick, faculty resource specialist, helps process teaching evaluations at the end of each semester in the Office of Academic Affairs.
 
Posted 02/01/08
Q: Eloise, as a faculty resource specialist in the Office of Academic Affairs, what resources do you manage for the faculty?

A: I coordinate all the paper and processes — except for benefits — associated with a faculty member’s career from the letter of offer until retirement. There is a reason the main decorative feature of my office is filing cabinets!

Q: When a new faculty member is hired, what is the process of getting him or her into the faculty database and university system?

A: Each faculty member provides the required personal information that is entered into the PeopleSoft Human Resources database so that the WES ID can be generated. All the electronic accounts that faculty members need to do their jobs are created through an automated process after the information is entered. Some of the information is then made public through the directory listing and the departmental web pages. Except for the name and job title, each individual controls the information that is made available for viewing in the university directory.

Q: Do you meet or speak with faculty often or is your job somewhat behind the scenes?

A: Most of my communication with faculty is through e-mail and the telephone. My most frequent contacts are with faculty members of the Advisory Committee and department chairs. If I am doing my job well, I shouldn’t hear from many faculty members.

Q: What generally occurs throughout your day?

A: Each day is different, although many of the tasks associated with the job are cyclical. The process for approving sabbatical and leaves for 08-09 has been completed. Now I am involved in tasks associated with hiring new faculty for the 08-09 academic year, and before long there will be retirement and commencement activities. At the end of each semester all the teaching evaluations are forwarded to Academic Affairs and I help coordinate that process and provide data to faculty on their evaluations.

Q: What are the Support Advisory Committee and Review and Appeals Board, and what is your involvement with them?

A: The Advisory Committee and the Review and Appeals Board are the faculty groups responsible for advising the president regarding appointments, reappointments and promotions in the faculty. I provide staff support to make sure these two groups have the materials they need for reviewing the appointments and assist in any way that I can to make the process run smoothly.

Q: Who are the key people you work with in Academic Affairs?

A: Part of the appeal of this job is that Academic Affairs works so collaboratively. I work most closely with the Paula Lawson, associate provost, but interact frequently with Joe Bruno, vice president for academic affairs and provost; Tom Morgan, academic secretary; Janine Lockhart, financial planner and analyst; the academic deans and the Academic Affairs support staff. It really is a team effort.

Q: When did you come to Wesleyan and attracted you to the university?

A: I began in February 2003. I was working in New Haven at the time and was looking for an interesting position in higher education when I saw an ad in the Hartford Courant for the position as an assistant to the vice president for the Office of Academic Affairs. I knew a couple of faculty members and they spoke highly the school so I decided to apply for the job. In addition, my husband and I have enjoyed the cultural activities that a liberal arts university provides. We’ve attended a number of Center for the Arts concerts and campus-wide lectures.

Q: What is your educational background? What were you doing prior to Wesleyan?

A: I have a degree in education. I have worked in education from the pre-school level through professional schools, both as a teacher and in administrative roles. Just prior to coming to Wesleyan I was the Dean’s Office coordinator at Yale University School of Medicine.

Q: Do you have a family?

A: My husband and I have been married for almost 38 years and have two grown children: a son living in Georgia and a daughter living in Colorado. They have chosen great locations for us to visit.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I really enjoy participating in choral music groups and have sung with several choirs over the years. I also enjoy the culinary arts and have been known to use North College third floor folks as the guinea pigs for cake or cookie recipes.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

General Counsel Advises University on Policies, Contracts, Litigation Issues


David Winakor is Wesleyan’s first general counsel and represents the university on issues affecting the university.
 
Posted 02/01/08
According to David Winakor, lawyers and doctors often have something in common.

“We can’t always tell you what exact illness or illnesses you might have, but we can probably help treat some symptoms and maybe even prevent it from getting worse,” Winakor says. “Although our issues are very different, we are both trained to find the answer.”

As a lawyer and Wesleyan’s first General Counsel, Winakor represents the university, its trustees, officers, faculty and staff, all in their official capacities, on various issues affecting the institution. By knowing and researching state, federal and case law, and imparting a dose of “common sense,” he is the university’s go-to person for legal advice.

Winakor estimates that probably less than half of Wesleyan’s peers have their own General Counsel, and larger institutions and state schools may have more than 15 lawyers staffed in-house. As a member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, Winakor communicates with fellow institutional lawyers on ways to enhance legal assistance to member schools.

“Wesleyan and other smaller schools have to do everything larger intuitions do from regulatory, compliance, litigation to handling student issues. Our volume of student or faculty issues might be lower but our breadth is the same,” Winakor explains.

John Meerts, vice president for finance and administration, created the Office of the General Counsel in 2007. His goal was to reduce the cost of hiring external law firms and have an in-house attorney with institutional knowledge. Winakor was hired in July as Wesleyan’s first full-time counsel.

“At Wesleyan, working in a liberal arts environment, there is an endless supply of cutting edge issues. I’ll never be at a loss for unique challenges to explore and respond to,” Winakor says.

At Wesleyan, Winakor divides his workload into six categories, including contracts, real estate, human resources, litigation, policies, and a broad category of miscellaneous issues. A key and somewhat obvious goal throughout is to reduce Wesleyan’s legal costs through prevention, appropriate and timely legal responses, and hard work.

Mulling through contracts takes up a significant portion of the Winakor’s time, and he seems to encounter a constant flow of them across his desk. When a department needs to purchase equipment or a service above certain dollar values or outside of University policy limits, Winakor will discuss the deal with the parties and review the “fine print.” Recent contracts include warranties for new science equipment, investment agreements, banking arrangements, engagement agreements on major construction projects, and a wide variety of technology sharing or transfer agreements.

In addition, Winakor wrote a contract to formalize a service level agreement between Wesleyan and members of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education who use Wesleyan’s electronic portfolio.

“Dave has been fabulous in helping write the contracts for us,” says Ganesan “Ravi” Ravishanker, associate vice president for Information Technology Services. “Most recently, he helped us finalize the Comcast cable TV contract for students.”

Winakor’s role with real estate involves working with Joyce Topshe, assistant vice president for facilities on real estate transactions and major project documentation. He has also worked with Human Resources to resolve disputes with employees or hiring process concerns. For university litigation issues, Winakor will represent Wesleyan and manage continuing litigation.

Wihile any institution will face disputes, Winakor says his job is to avoid, mediate, manage and resolve disputes at all levels so that the university is not unnecessarily exposed and can better serve its students.

Writing or revising current Wesleyan policies is an issue Winakor has also moved to the forefront. His primary goal is to build a code of conduct for the university in order to make all employees aware of the school’s most critical policies including issues of discrimination and harassment, conflict of interest, contracting, incident reporting and antitrust policies.

“Key human resources policies are already written and posted on the HR website, but we want to find a way to bring more attention to them along with the other core policies that need to be at the forefront of what we do.” Winakor explains.

A conflicts of interest policy is one such core policy that needed immediate attention and which was recently adopted. He’s also already dealt with a hot-button issue on campus: political contests.

Since Wesleyan is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit entity as defined by the Internal Revenue Service, the university is prohibited from participation in political activities. Students interested in bringing a candidate to campus had difficulty interpreting on how to legally do so, because of the IRS restrictions.

In December, he met with the Student Life Committee and developed a Political Speakers Policy counter-proposal based on students’ input.

“So what we ended up doing is drafting a policy to be administered and enforced by the Student Leadership & Activities Office that says on certain days of the week, Wesleyan would allow any and all political candidates to use certain designated facilities so long as the candidates scheduled and supported it themselves and understood that the university does not support or endorse the candidacy of any political candidate,” Winakor explains.

Prior to Wesleyan, Winakor worked for eight years as the Assistant General Counsel and Vice President for Business Development for The Stanley Works in New Britain, Conn. Prior to that, he practiced corporate and commercial law at Murtha Cullina, LLP in Hartford, Conn. after serving as a commissioned officer in the United States Army.

Winakor received his bachelor’s degree in Geography and Criminal Justice from The Ohio State University and his Juris Doctor from The University of Connecticut School of Law.

He lives in Portland with his wife, Laura, and three children, Jonah, 12; Jacob, 10; and Grace, 8. He enjoys photography, coaching his children’s soccer and baseball teams, and rebuilding and restoring cars and motorcycles.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Multimedia Installation Fictively Reinvents 18th-Century Utopian Society


Multimedia artist Lenore Malen is the artistic director of “Lenore Malen and the New Society for Universal Harmony,” on display in Zilkha Gallery Feb. 2-March 2.
Posted 02/01/08
A new Center for the Arts exhibit uses the lens of history to explore the far-ranging beliefs and anxieties of our time and the sciences and technologies that have informed them.

“Lenore Malen and the New Society for Universal Harmony” runs from Feb. 2 through March 2 in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. It consists of a multi-media installation that uses video, digital prints and archival materials.

“The New Society exhibit is smart and creative, playful and mysterious, interdisciplinary and interactive,” says Nina Felshin, curator of exhibitions. “It winks at both art and life but it also comments on a timely phenomenon in this country in which individuals are pitted against institutions that construct their own realities.”

The New Society for Universal Harmony is a group reinvented in 2000, which base their practices on the utopian La societe de l’harmonie universelle established in Paris in 1793 by the followers of Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer introduced hypnotic-like healing treatments, which some called “mesmerism.” His early medical practices involved using magnetism and the influence of the moon on the body.

New Society members engage in communal rituals and perform historical re-enactments. They document these activities, collaboratively, as artworks.

“This exhibit is a part fantasy, part serious attempt to address the needs in contemporary culture while playfully satirizing them,” explains Malen. “We question ideas about community, utopian ideas, medical practices and even cult-like activities.”

Malen and company are utilizing the entire gallery for the exhibit. The multi-disciplinary installation includes wall-size digital prints of New Society members engaged in meditative –or even maddening – practices.

Two videos will be shown repetitively, each documenting two aspects of modernity. One reveals New Society members, donning ceremonial saffron attire, performing a Mesmer-influenced ritual against a bleak Canadian rockscape (see video still at right). The other incorporates archival footage from the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs and NASA footage, while documenting a re-enactment of the first hypnosis session ever illustrated in a 19th-century engraving.

To encourage interaction, gallery-goers can choose an “ailment” that affects their life, and find a remedy inside the exhibit’s Mesmer Research Library of the New Society for Universal Harmony. Malen and Felshin worked with Eunjoo Lee, head of access services in Olin Library, to acquire volumes on topics of psychology, philosophy, literature, political science, physics and biology. The exhibit’s collection is a mix drawn from Olin’s shelves and Malen’s personal collection.

“The library reminds us of the deep and historic connections between books in every discipline,” Malen says. “All of the volumes in the Mesmer Research Library are connected to each other through their subjects, authorship, footnotes and marginalia, and the design is emphasized in particular ways.”

Housed in shelves and on desks constructed from acid-free cardboard, the architecture and the books allude to a library’s function as a repository for material culture. The New Society Library is designed to sharply contrast with the contemporary vision of Google’s projected infinite electronic library.

The installation is collaboratively produced by Malen, a multi-disciplinary artist who utilizes photography, video and audio installation, live performance, artist books in order to create imaginative scenarios involving historical fiction. Malen’s multi-media project “The New Society for Universal Harmony,” is documented in a recent book of the same title.

Admission to Lenore Malen and The New Society for Universal Harmony is free.
The public is invited to attend the opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 1, with an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. inside the gallery.

The Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery is located at 283 Washington Terrace, Middletown, CT. For more information or directions, call 860-685-3355 or visit www.wesleyan.edu/cfa.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

The Wesleyan Connection: Campus Snapshot

OVER WINTER BREAK: Area children sled down Foss Hill after a gentle snow Jan. 14.

Frosty trees near Exley Science Center.
Ice-topping on the South College belfry.
A winter walk near the front steps Olin Library and West College.
A glistening-morning scene near Hall-Atwater and Shanklin laboratories. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

Hindu Awareness Community “Athma” Teaches Spiritual Principles


Posted 01/15/08
For the past three years, College of Social Studies and French double major Anand Venkatachalam ’08 has studied South Asian culture, history, language and the Hindu religion. What was lacking, however, was the opportunity to practice Hinduism on campus.

“I found it very odd that a campus so greatly endowed with an interest in Asian art forms did not have even a student group that provided a community for Hindus on campus,” says Venkatachalam, a native of Chennai, India. “College is a time of ethic formation, and questioning norms and values. Hindu students, or students who were raised by practicing Hindu parents, go through this period of soul-searching.”

Venkatachalam, pictured at right, and his Hindu peers used to meet twice a month to pray, consolidate their thoughts and partake in Hindu rituals at the Connecticut Valley Hindu Temple Society in Middletown. But now, the Hindu students, and those curious to know more about the religious tradition, can partake in regular meetings through the newly-formed Hindu awareness community, Athma.

Athma means “soul or spirit,” and appeals to Hindu spiritual principles.

“Since Hinduism advocates for the realization of the Self through meditation, good works and service to others, the betterment of the spirit (Athma) becomes the main objective,” Venkatachalam explains. “The spirit also transcends caste, creed, religion, race, gender, and sexuality, which is analogous to our mission to provide a gathering for those interested in Hindu philosophy regardless of their background.”

Venkatachalam co-founded the organization with Kumar Sarkar ’09 and Meera Dave ’08, backed by support from the Chaplain’s Office, administration and faculty.

Already, Athma has 40 members, which includes students who identified themselves as Hindus, and students from other religious and ethnic backgrounds who are interested in Hinduism. Venkatachalam estimates that five or six self-identified Hindus join the undergraduate class every year at Wesleyan.

“Our society serves as catalyst amongst the Hindu community to rethink the value of our cultural practices and evaluate our values knowing what it means to be a Hindu in depth,” says Sarkar. “We will work with religious groups on campus to promote spirituality beyond the lines of religion and faith, to realize the ‘athma’ of all beings.”

Athma’s mission as a spiritual community is to recognize the common existence, diversity and plurality of Hinduism in its various rituals, practices, and forms of worship; acknowledge the unique nature of all religions in their pursuit towards truth and spiritual consciousness; identify the universal truth, called “Para Bramhan” and spiritual consciousness; and gain awareness of the historical, intellectual and spiritual heritage that has grown from the tenets of “Sanatana Dharma,” or a spiritual path or philosophy.

Athma is open to anyone from any religious background. During the meeting, or satsang, the students recite slokas, or prayerful verses, participate in Om chanting, and have monthly guest speakers and festivals. The discussions are aimed at understanding and realizing the universal love and devotion that underlies Hinduism and its culture in a less academic environment.

Venkatachalam says Wesleyan is more open to religious and spiritual communities than others he has encountered, although he still gets his fair share of questions.

“Western society looks for concrete answers to questions such as ‘why do you have so many gods?’ and ‘why do you deify cows and animals?’ The answers to which stem from multiple mythologies, traditions and practices. So no one answer is the same, but no one answer is completely wrong either,” he explains.

Discussion and debate topics include the study of the history of Hinduism and its evolution, the life and message of various Gurus, understanding the Hindu Pantheon, homosexuality and Hinduism, misconception of Hindu practices and religious institutions and Hindu spirituality.

The group already has support from the Chaplain’s Office and some faculty, however it is seeking additional sponsorship and donations from the Wesleyan community. Funds will be used for Athma events, speakers, campus-wide festivals, presentations and services to reeducate members and teach others.

Athma meetings, or satsang, are held from 5 to 7 p.m. every Friday in the Chaplain’s Lounge. For more information e-mail Anand Venkatachalam at vtharakad@wesleyan.edu.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Institute to Teach Foreign Language in 4 Weeks


Posted 01/15/08
Parlez-vous français? By attending the Wesleyan Summer Language Institute, students will learn to speak, write and comprehend basic French in only four weeks.

The new Summer Language Institute, developed by the Division of Continuing Studies, will offer programs in Arabic, Russian and Spanish as well as French. Participants will be grouped together by language, and will live, study, eat and mingle together constantly in the target language.

“In four weeks of immersion, students will gain the equivalent of a full year of language study at Wesleyan,” says Jennifer Curran, assistant director for admissions and outreach. “This is a great way to participate in a vibrant learning atmosphere and learn a language quickly.”

The intensive immersion session is held June 2-27 on campus. Students will live in Clark Hall dormitory and dine together at tables set up for their target language at the Usdan University Center. Wesleyan faculty and visiting faculty will teach all sessions.

Weekdays will be filled with classes, conversation sessions, co-curricular activities and guided study sessions. Weekends will feature activities emphasizing the target language and its cultural contexts such as cooking classes, dance lessons, singing, movie and discussion nights, short video productions, crafts, sports and field trips.

Most activities will relate directly to the culture of the target language. For instance, students enrolled in the Russian Institute will learn to make borscht and pel’meni, dance ‘kazachok’ and sing ‘Katiusha.’ And students in the Arabic Institute will travel to Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, the heart of New York’s Arab-American community.

The institute offers programs in the four languages at a variety of levels. Elementary courses will help students develop the basic skills of language: listening, speaking, reading and writing in their chosen language. Coursework is organized to maximize rapid proficiency with effective retention. Intermediate courses refine and strengthen skills. Cultural education is an integral part of all the courses at the Institute.

The Summer Language Institute is open to Wesleyan undergraduates and graduate students, students from other institutions and professionals in international fields, government employees, non-profit organizations, medical workers and others.

The Institute has rolling admission and has started accepting applications. Applicants are expected to have completed at least one year of college and provide two academic recommendations. Admission is competitive and based on a person’s application.

“We’re looking for students who demonstrate success in previous language study, in a challenging program of college courses, or whose academic or professional work demonstrates the motivation and aptitude to thrive under the rigors of this hyper-intensive form of study,” Curran explains.

Upon completion, undergraduates will receive two Wesleyan language credits, or eight credit hours, toward their degree. Tuition is $4,600 and housing and dining is $1372. Student loans may be available.

For more information on the Summer Language Institute, or to apply, go to:
http://www.wesleyan.edu/summer/.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Dierker Awarded $1M from National Institutes of Health

 

Posted 01/15/08
Lisa Dierker, associate professor of psychology, has received a $1 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop a new statistical method that will move past standard approaches to provide more sensitive ways to evaluate both the etiology and clinical course of mental and physical health outcomes.

Numerous statistical methods used in longitudinal health research help make sense of mountains of complex data and aid researchers in uncovering important associations that can inform health care.

Dierker, pictured at right, and Runze Li, associate professor of statistics at Pennsylvania State University, are principal investigators on the grant, which is a NIH Roadmap initiative aimed at stimulating interdisciplinary research teams, and reshaping clinical research to accelerate medical discovery and improve people’s health. Dierker and Li are proposing a new class of statistical models that, unlike those traditionally used in health research, will allow for analysis of intensive longitudinal data.

These new models possess many valuable features which make them the most appropriate for addressing critical questions regarding the development of disease and disability as well as factors that influence their clinical course. Specifically, the proposed new models will better allow researchers to understand complex effects that vary over time and change across individual subjects.

“We will propose estimation procedures for the new models, and develop software to implement them. Initially, we plan to apply the proposed procedures to extant data focused on 1) the etiology of drug use and 2) the clinical course of asthma,” Dierker says.

Out of the $1 million grant funds, $240,000 will be going directly to Wesleyan for the four-year interdisciplinary project.
 

By Corrie Kerr, associate director of Media Relations

Kresge Foundation Challenge Grant Supports New Science Equipment


Lauren Nichols, a BA/MA biology student, demonstrates how the new LICOR Li-6400  measures the rate of carbon fixation via photosynthesis in living plants.
Posted 01/15/08
A challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation is supporting much-needed equipment for the sciences at Wesleyan.

With a challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation, Wesleyan has already acquired a photosynthesis system, microplate reader, spectrometers and a dye laser. With $500,000 raised from donors, the foundation provided a grant of $250,000 for a total of $750,000 used towards the equipment purchase. And this month, Wesleyan will receive an additional $250,000 from the foundation to support future equipment purchases and equipment repair.  Wesleyan raised $1 million over the past 18 months to support this endowment.

“This equipment provides opportunities for our faculty and students to do research at the highest levels,” explains David Bodznick, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of biology and neuroscience and behavior. “It expands our capabilities and allows our scientific inquiry to keep pace with the intellectual capacity of our researchers.”

Several departments received equipment. Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, uses a new photosynthesis system; Philip Bolton, professor of chemistry and chair of the Chemistry Department, is using a microplate reader; Rex Pratt, the Beach Professor of Chemistry, is using a LC-Mass Spectrometer; and the Chemistry Department is using a Gel Permeation Chromatograph.

Tim Ku, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, is using his department’s new  ICP-Mass Spectrometer; Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck professor of Astronomy and chair of the Astronomy Department, is using a new CCD camera; and Brian Stewart, associate professor of physics, is using the Physics Department’s new YAG/dye laser.

Herbst’s graduate student Jenny Konon says the department’s new camera makes astronomical observing more efficient. The camera enables users to take photographs of faint, distant objects with super-short exposures.

“With a special light filter, it even lets us take stunning photos of objects as bright as the moon   (see image at left),” Konon says.

Sultan’s plant evolutionary ecology lab frequently uses the new LICOR Li-6400 photosynthesis system, which is a state-of-the-art gas analyzer that measures physiological rates on the leaves of living plants under controlled amounts of light from a built-in light source. These measurements provide key insights into how efficiently plants function in specific environmental conditions.

Her students have used the system to study an introduced species called Polygonum cespitosum that has become invasive in New England. Their LICOR data showed that study populations of this species are evolving very rapidly to photosynthesize at higher rates in sunny habitats, where the species has begun to spread.

Sultan presented the findings at a joint U.S.-Japan workshop on plant response to global environmental change in October 2007.

“It’s great that students in my lab have the chance to study plant function using the LICOR system, considered the best available instrument for photosynthesis work,” Sultan says.

Pratt says the department’s new electrospray mass spectrometer is an important addition to the instrumentation available to Wesleyan chemists and biochemists.

“With this instrument, we are now able to obtain the mass spectra and molecular weights of many polar and ionic molecules,” Pratt says. “Since most biomolecules are of this type, the instrument is essential to modern biological chemistry.”

Bolton’s new microplate reader has become equally essential for research projects involving the interactions of DNA molecules with proteins and in projects aimed at finding drug-like molecules that bind to specific sites in the genome.

Before acquiring the plate reader, Bolton and his students had to prepare large samples and measure each one separately, which is both time consuming and uses lots of material. With the plate reader, the lab can prepare as many as 256 very small samples on a microplate and the reader can determine the fluorescence of all of the samples in the same, or less time than measuring one large sample by the previous method.

“This allows us to carry out much more extensive measurements,” Bolton explains. “In addition, many plates can be prepared at the same time. Since the students can now acquire much larger data sets they can also use more sophisticated statistical methods to analyze their data.”

The Kresge Foundation of Troy, Mich. is one of the foremost supporters of independent higher education and nonprofit organizations. The foundation works to address society’s pressing issues in six fields of interest including health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human services and community development.
 

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

2nd Generation Student-Athlete Greg Hurd ’10 Favors Wesleyan for Academics, Wrestling Program

Posted 01/15/08
Q: With your father and uncle both outstanding former Wesleyan wrestlers, was it a foregone conclusion that you’d become a wrestler? A: It’s hard to say, I had known growing up that my father and three out of my four uncles had wrestled; however, I never felt at one time that I was being pressured to follow suit. We joke in my family that my father always gets his way without ever saying anything. I vaguely remember him urging me to look into it, but I know the decision to start wrestling was ultimately mine. In terms of wrestling for Wesleyan, I hadn’t thought about wrestling in college or attending Wesleyan really at all until the spring of my junior year in high school. My parents never said anything about the idea that I was “following in my fathers footsteps.” It was mostly an interesting situation that dawned on me after I had already started the process myself.

Q: How did Wesleyan get onto your list of possible colleges?

A: Before applying to college my father and I spent my spring break of my junior year visiting a bunch of different schools on the east coast. My dad never pushed for Wesleyan, he was always very objective in discussing other schools and other choices I could make in terms of where I was applying and how I was planning to go about it. Of course, he was sure to remind me that Wesleyan was one of the few schools that could offer me the opportunity to wrestle at the Division III level and still offer me a great education.

Q: How instrumental was Head Wrestling Coach Drew Black in making your choice to attend Wesleyan? How would you describe him as a coach?

A: Coach Black played a very significant role in my decision to apply to Wesleyan. His enthusiasm for his team and the entire recruiting process made me feel very excited about the possibility of wrestling at Wesleyan. I had also heard a great deal of positive feedback about Coach Black from former coaches of mine who knew him. I really admire Coach Black for the enthusiasm he brings to the room everyday. Each practice is well organized, very diverse, and very focused. To design a practice plan in such a systematic way is a testament to how hard he works for the program. Seeing that hard work coming from his end makes me want to work harder for him.

Q: When did you first take to the mats for any kind of wrestling activity? What about it appealed to you?

A: I wrestled my first official match in seventh grade. I had wrestled a little bit in elementary school, but none of that was really substantial. I felt wrestling really catered to my sense of pride and determination. I love when something challenges me, and I love when I am pushed to perform better than my competition. I feel that at all times when I’m wrestling.

Q: What other sports captured your fancy as you were growing up?

A: I started playing lacrosse during summer camps when I was 10-years-old.
When I entered Junior High, I was primarily interested in playing lacrosse and looked to wrestling as a way of staying in shape during the winter. After wrestling practice, I would often go home and drill my lacrosse skills on a wall in my basement. In the process, wrestling became my passion and lacrosse fell by the wayside.

Q: To this point in your career, what would you say is the high point from a wrestling standpoint?

A: Winning the Roger Williams Tournament this year. After not finishing last year, I wanted to make a big statement coming into the season this year. I beat two nationally ranked wrestlers that day, including one that had beaten me three times last year.

Q: Do you have your sites set on any specific goals in wrestling before you graduate?

A: My individual goals include becoming a New England Champion and ultimately becoming an All American. I also would like to lead the Wesleyan Wrestling team to a top 3 finish at the New England Championships. I’ve found that I succeed when my teammates are succeeding as well.

Q: Might we see more Hurds coming to Wesleyan?

A: I have one sister, Allison, who is currently enrolled in Wesleyan as well.
I don’t think she has wrestling on her mind, but she is an exceptional dancer. She impresses me every single time I watch her perform.

Q: What do you plan to major in at Wesleyan and if you had to project where you might be five years from now, what would you say?

A: I plan on declaring an earth and environmental science major. It’s hard to say where I see myself in five years. I feel very passionate about many things, so it’s hard to say that I can envision one clear career path ahead of me.

Q: Give us a small bit of your philosophy on life.

I’ve never been afraid to challenge myself. I’ve always sought out experiences that could potentially improve me as a person. I truly value the people in my life and the opportunities I have been given. That said, my family has always supported me and guided me in pursuing my passions. I have come to realize however, that my ambitions are only one aspect of my personality. I try to stay as vigilant as possible about keeping everything in perspective. The relationships I have formed with my friends and family are just as important to me as the activities I participate in.

Q: What other hobbies or activities keep you busy?

A: I love to sing and play music. I can play the piano, guitar, bass and cello. I still play the guitar often, but I don’t have much time to practice the others while I’m at school. Having a creative outlet is very important to me. It helps me to relax and distance myself from the everyday grind. Music also brings me a lot of joy because it can be shared with others. My mother pushed me to pursue music just as intently as any other hobby, I suppose she foresaw how important it would be in the future.

By Brian Katten, sports information director