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Students, Administration and Faculty Continue Dialogue


Posted 01/31/05

A forum on January 25 engaged more than 300 students, faculty and staff in a discussion of the administrative response to issues raised at a student-organized forum in December. The forum followed by a week the distribution of a report detailing student participation in University governance, itself a response to complaints from some students that they felt excluded from decisions that affect their lives on campus.

At the forum, held in the Chapel, senior administrators were joined onstage by leaders of the faculty and the Wesleyan Student Assembly. Professor of Philosophy Brian Fay moderated the session, during which students raised questions or made comments based on the report.

It appeared that most students had read the report, said Interim Dean of the College Peter Patton. “Some students expressed dissatisfaction about the status of specific issues they care about,” he said. “On the other hand, it seems  that most now realize that Wesleyan students do have significant opportunities to influence University decision-making.”

The issues that received the most attention during the forum were student interest in having a multicultural dean, accommodations in housing for incoming students who identify as transgender, and the future of the student radio station, WESU 88.1FM. Later in the week, President Doug Bennet emailed students to describe steps the University is taking to follow up on these issues. He reiterated his intention to engage the leaders of the WSA and the faculty in a follow-up discussion of governance and communication issues treated in the report.

Bennet informed students that he, Patton and Interim Director of Affirmative Action Michael Benn would meet with leaders of student of color groups to discuss the specific issues underlying students’ expressed desire for “safe spaces,” a dean of multicultural affairs, and diversity training for faculty.

Bennet reminded students that Patton would continue to work with the Undergraduate Residential Life Committee (URLC) and the Student Life Committee to identify acceptable solutions for gender-neutral housing. While returning students may select their own roommates regardless of gender, Residential Life currently accommodates transgendered first-year students in making room assignments. In making first-year assignments, the University does not support roommate pairing of students of different biological sexes. First-year students requesting accommodation are assigned to a single room or to a double room with another student requesting accommodation. Last year, the language describing “gender-neutral housing” was not clear to many first-year students, and the URLC is working to clarify the description for 2005-2006.

Communications Director Justin Harmon will continue to work with student leaders of WESU to help them develop plans that will enable the station to become financially viable and maintain its independence. Wesleyan has committed to hiring a full-time general manager who will help bring continuity to the station and build its fund-raising and operations.

“These will not be the only opportunities available for continuing the dialogue, but I think they are a good start,” Bennet wrote. “I welcome other suggestions about how to advance these issues.”

Students of Color Applications Up

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Hargrave Meislahn told those present at the January 25 forum that applications to Wesleyan have risen approximately 5 percent from last year and that applications from students of color have increased at even higher rates.

As of January 21, Wesleyan had logged 6,848 applications, as compared with 6,509 on the same date the year before, Meislahn said. Applications from African-Americans had risen 18 percent, to 504 from 428; from Asian-Americans 13 percent, to 659 from 584; and from Latinos 7 percent, to 424 from 395. The number of applications from each of these groups represented at least an 8-year high for Wesleyan, Meislahn said. Final application numbers will be available later this month.

Wesleyan has gone to extra lengths to recruit students of color, Meislahn said, since experiencing a dip in applications from African-American students. Admission Office staff held a community forum and a follow-up meeting with interested students early in the fall to solicit their advice and to engage them in helping to recruit students, Meislahn said. In addition, a letter from the dean of admission and the vice president of University Relations was sent to alumni of color seeking their help in identifying and recruiting talented prospective students.

Meislahn invited everyone at the forum to be part of the solution. 

“As the admission cycle moves forward there will be many opportunities for students and faculty to assist the admission office in reaching out to admitted students,” she said. “Phonathons and plans for hosting students in April are underway.”

Anyone interested in being involved should contact the Admission Office, Meislahn said.

 

New Findings Center on Human Pheromones


Robert Lane, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, co-authored a study that indicates scientists may have overestimated the use of the vomeronasal organ in pheromone perception by animals.
Posted 01/31/05

A new study co-authored by Robert Lane, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, suggests that human pheromone detection may occur right under our own noses – literally.

In an article due out in the February issue of “Genome Research,” Lane provided new evidence that scientists may have overestimated the use of the vomeronasal organ, or VNO, in pheromone perception in animals. The VNO has been described as the predominant pheromone-detecting organ, based mostly on rodent studies that point to its role in evoking innate reproductive and social behaviors.

Lane, along with Wesleyan graduate student Marijo Kambere and his colleagues from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, discovered that one of the main putative pheromone receptor families expressed inside the VNO has been decimated in domesticated dogs. This finding suggests that the VNO may play a diminished role in dogs and perhaps other non-rodent mammals. 

 “As keen as the dog sense of smell is and as elaborate a pheromonal system dogs seem to have, it could be that the main nose, not the VNO, underlies elaborate pheromonal communication in dogs,” Lane said.

If this is true, then the observation that humans probably do not possess a functional VNO may not mean an inability to detect pheromones. “Our apparent lack of a functional VNO might not be a handicap if pheromone responses can be mediated by our main olfactory system,” Lane said.

 

By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations

Managing the Cosmos: Astronomy Department’s Systems and Facilities Manager Helps Students Observe and Research the Night Sky

Eric Williams, systems and facilities manager of the Astronomy Department and Van Vleck Observatory, stands outside the observatory’s 24-inch Perkin research reflector, where he often hosts weekly open houses and star gazings.
“What’s beautiful about astronomy is that there are always unanswered questions, and when you answer one, that will open up five more questions,” said Eric Williams, the systems and facility manager for the Astronomy Department and Van Vleck Observatory. “I’m always curious.”

An interest in astronomy, physics and computers led Williams to Wesleyan in 1996. “I’ve always wanted a job like this,” Williams said, “I get to experiment with all kinds of things.”

Before coming to Wesleyan, Williams spent five years hunting for planets outside our solar system as a sky observer with the planet research team at San Francisco State University. The team has contributed to the discovery of more than 100 extrasolar planets.

Williams says he isn’t a telescope equipment expert but he can answer just about any questions regarding how the Wesleyan scopes operate. However, most his time is currently devoted to, as he refers to it, “babysitting computers.”

At Wesleyan, Williams, spends about a quarter of his time on research and leading weekly star gazings for the public and an amateur astronomy group. He uses the observatory’s 24-inch Perkin research reflector, the 20-inch Alvan Clark great refractor and the 16-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector, all housed in their own domes on campus.

Formerly a sky observer for the SFSU planet search team, Williams says he isn’t a telescope equipment expert, but he can answer just about any questions regarding how the Wesleyan scopes operate.

As the systems manager, Williams oversees the department’s server – appropriately named ‘Astro,’ – as well as an array of 10 printers and 40 computers with MacIntosh and UNIX workstations. He assists students with software questions and checks for security alerts daily.

“I’m a troubleshooter and an anticipator,” he said. “If a problem comes up, I’ll find a solution. I don’t want people to get behind because of computer problems.”

Williams works from his basement office, which also functions as a storeroom. There, heaps of books, papers, computer monitors, keyboards, network cards and tangled wires dwell in any available space, including the floor.

Williams, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics from San Francisco State University, acquired most of his programming knowledge on the job. He self-taught himself programming languages Java, Perl and PHP, and research software including Interactive Data Language, or IDL.

Nevertheless, Williams knew he’d never master the programming languages without further education. “I had an intellectual curiosity. I wanted to fill in the gaps in my knowledge,” Williams said.

Three years ago, he visited the math department and enrolled in a master’s degree program for computer science. He graduated in spring 2004 and learned what it takes to be a student at Wesleyan. “The kids here at Wesleyan are very smart. I had to keep up with undergrads in some of my classes,” said the 40-year-old.

Results from his master’s thesis, titled “Directional versus Omnidirectional Antennas for Energy Consumption and k-connectivity of Sensor Networks,” was recently accepted for publication.

At Wesleyan, Williams supports all research by William Herbst, professor of astronomy, who gained renown recognition for his discovery of KH15D, a far-off, winking star which appears to be displaying behavior thought to create our own solar system.

“Eric is highly respected and valued by all the staff and students of the Astronomy Department,” Herbst said. “He helps us with all sorts of computer problems, manages the complex astronomy computer network, runs our public outreach programs, and participates in some research programs and in the intellectual life of the department.”

He also volunteers his time and skills to community projects such as Project ASTRO, which uses an activities-based approach to excite third through 12th grade students about astronomy and help them learn the process of science.

Most recently, Williams joined a team working with Earth & Environmental Sciences Assistant Professor Martha Gilmore on developing a Planetary Science Group for the campus and local community.

Although he’s been doing research for the last few years in computer science, Williams is looking forward to the slight change of topic.

“I am excited to return to doing some of my own astronomy research now,” he said.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

The Wesleyan Connection: Campus Snapshot

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T: Fred Ellis, professor of physics, pours liquid nitrogen onto a stool during a lab demonstration January 13 in the Physics Department. About 90 students visiting from the Thomas Edison Middle School in Meriden attended six demonstrations, led by Wesleyan physics faculty and graduate students. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett)
 
LASER LIGHT: Graduate student Paula Matei teaches seventh grade students from Thomas Edison Middle School about lasers inside the Physics Department’s Molecular Collision Laboratory. Matei works under the supervision of Associate Professor of Physics Brian Stewart and studies the different kinds of few-body dynamics that can occur in the context of atom-molecule collisions. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett)