By Jim. H. Smith
Shivani Siroya ’04 (center), CEO and founder of Tala, has assembled other Wesleyan women on her team to change the financial lives of those in developing countries—including Lauren Pruneski ’04 (left), director of global communications and public relations, and Bonnie Oliva-Porter ’04 (right), director of global operations. Also at Tala, but not pictured, is Amy Barth Sommerlatt ’04, expansion strategist.
No one has ever questioned Jenipher’s work ethic. For decades, this 65-year-old Kenyan woman has operated a food stall in the central business district of downtown Nairobi. It has given her the wherewithal to support a family of three sons, and she has paid for the vocational school education of each. She is also the leader of a local group of responsible adults who support each other in their efforts to save money.
Yet despite those facts, Jenipher had no credit rating. Like some 2.5 billion people worldwide, she lacked a financial identity, the very thing that traditional banks evaluate when deciding whether to make loans to consumers. Her capacity to borrow money in order to grow her business and improve her life was virtually nonexistent.
She did have one thing going for her, though. Like more than a billion residents of the planet’s emerging markets, she owned a Smartphone that she regularly used for a wide range of activities, from business management to communications with local friends and associates as well as family in Uganda. Three years ago, one of her adult sons encouraged her to download the “app” of a Los Angeles-based company called Tala, and it changed her life.
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Becky Albertalli ’05
Clinical psychologist and YA novelist Becky Albertalli ’05 is the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, an award winning coming-of-age story published by Harper Collins in 2015. It follows Simon Spier, a junior in high school struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity without coming out, before a leaked email threatens to compromise his secret and his comfort zone. This past October, Fox 2000 Pictures and Temple Hill Entertainment began developing a movie adaptation of the book. The major motion picture will feature a star-studded cast––including Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford and Jennifer Garner––and is set to be released in March 2018.
Directed by Greg Berlanti, the comedy-drama film of the same name as Albertalli’s debut novel is currently in post-production. Fans of the popular book and members of the cast, like Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller and Josh Duhamel, are excited to see an underrepresented, LGBTQA-centered story told on the big screen.
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Jill Sung ’90, center, with her sister Vera and father, the founder of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, in a still from the new documentary by Steven James, which will air on PBS Frontline Sept. 12. The film chronicles the saga of the only U.S. bank indicted for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis.
On Sept.12 (check local listings), Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline will broadcast Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a new documentary by Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) that tells the story of the only U.S. bank to be criminally charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. That bank is Abacus Federal Savings Bank, located in New York City’s Chinatown and founded in 1984 by Thomas Sung, an immigration lawyer and an immigrant himself, who saw the need for this within the insular community. Sung and his wife are the parents of four daughters—three lawyers and one medical doctor—including two affiliated with the bank: Jill Sung ’90, president and CEO of Abacus, and her elder sister Vera, who sits on the board.
The events that are chronicled were set in motion when the Sungs discovered that one of their loan officers was taking money from borrowers in order to create false loan documents. The Sungs immediately fired him, referred the matter to their regulator, and reported the incident to the police. Yet instead of prosecuting that individual, the district attorney’s office turned their scrutiny on the bank’s officers and employees. In an unprecedented turn of events, 18 Abacus employees were placed under arrest and the press was offered a shocking photo-op: 10 of these employees were “handcuffed to a chain and paraded down the hallway in the Criminal Court building in a staged perp-walk before the national news media like a herd of slaves being led to the auction block,” as Thomas Sung later described that event in his statement to the public after Abacus was found innocent of wrongdoing.
Before that day of vindication, however, the legal proceedings, machinations, and trial sprawled over five long, intense years. James was there to film key moments and conduct interviews, including one with New York City District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who led the prosecution.
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Five alumnae and one student are collaborating on a play that will debut Aug. 10-13 in New York City.
Resistance, written by May Treuhaft-Ali ’17 and directed by Maia Nelles-Sager ’17, is about Libby, a 15-year-old girl from Queens struggling with her weight. Everyone in her life from her mother to her “specialist” is trying to help her lose weight, but none of them seem to understand the underlying issue. When her favorite spin teacher is fired, Libby discovers that violent revenge fantasies makes her feel better. But every time she has a violent revenge fantasy, she gains 16 pounds.
“Resistance touches on themes such as weight-loss culture, female relationships, and gentrification. The cast is entirely female-identifying, as is the production team,” said Nelles-Sager, a film and theater double major.
Nelles-Sager and Treuhaft-Ali are assisted by set designer Nola Werlinich ’17; properties designer and assistant set designer Jess Cummings ’17; graphic designer Caitlin Chan ’17; and sound designer Hope Fourie ’19. At Wesleyan, Nelles-Sager directed four shows with Second Stage and wrote a playwriting thesis; Treuhaft-Ali completed a directing thesis with the Theater Department.
Resistance will be performed at the Wild Project, a theater, film, music, and visual arts venue in New York’s East Village. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Aug. 10-12 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 12-13. Tickets are available for purchase online.
Michael Pope and Amanda Palmer ’98 will collaborate on Wesleyan’s The Art of Doing course this fall.
Wesleyan students will have the opportunity to learn collaborative filmmaking skills before being transported to a metaphoric desert island with nothing but a camera phone and a song when award-winning independent filmmaker Michael Pope and singer-musician-writer Amanda Palmer ’98 team up for a new course this fall: The Art of Doing: Creative Project Production and Making It Happen. The studio class, which will be limited to 15 students, will focus on non-traditional video production techniques resulting in a class-created video featuring music and performance by Palmer.
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Noah Hamlish ’16
Noah Hamlish ’16 is one of five delegates representing the U.S. in this year’s Youth Ag-Summit in Brussels. Organized by Crop Science, the summit is a weeklong event that connects youth leaders from 49 countries to brainstorm ideas for agricultural sustainability and tackle global food security issues.
In a feature article in Agrinews, Hamlish recounts the experiences that have spurred his interest in food challenges and farming innovation:
He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.
“I’m a city boy through and through, but when I got to college, I started to focus a lot on food science and aquatic systems,” he explained. “I am interested in fish and seafood, where they come from, how we produce them and the science that goes along with it.”
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Simon Riker ’14 (left) with Emerson Sieverts
Composer and musician Simon Riker ’14 showcased the original musical comedy Me Prometheus: Caveman Love Story at this year’s NY Summerfest Theatre Festival over the weekend. Conceived by Riker in 2010 and written in collaboration with friend Emerson Sieverts, the absurd full-length show about the prehistoric discovery of fire was produced first at Wesleyan and again at William and Mary. This summer, Me Prometheus appeared in its third live iteration with four sold-out shows on the New York Theatre Festival stage.
In an article for the Times Square Chronicles, Riker is described as a “composer, music director, singer, and keyboardist.” He developed his interest in music at a young age and continued to hone his skills as an undergrad:
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Michele A. Roberts ’77, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, appeared in AdWeek‘s list of its “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports.”
Adweek named Michele Roberts ’77, executive director—and first female leader—of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), to its “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports” list, which features outstanding executives, athletes and journalists, among others.
Previously an attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Roberts began her career as a public defender in Washington, D.C. In the June 26 article, Adweek’s Tim Baysinger noted that Roberts would be negotiating across the table from league commissioner Adam Silver when the two worked on a new collective bargaining agreement—and Roberts would be trying to avoid a lockout, something her two predecessors were not able to do. A government major at Wesleyan, Roberts earned her JD from the University of California at Berkeley.
The negotiations now completed, Roberts noted, “The deal we worked out with the league contained a number of favorable provisions for our players, including a 45 percent across-the-board salary increase for those players whose salaries are pre-set. And, no lockout!”
In 2015, Roberts spoke at Wesleyan’s Dwight L. Greene Symposium about her role with the players union and her deep commitment to the men she was representing: “Maybe it is okay for a professional athlete to be as politically apathetic as anyone else; they have the right not to care,” Roberts said. “But when I saw my guys wearing those ‘I can’t breathe’ t-shirts, I could not have been more proud.… We will defend to the death the right of our players to comment on political issues as they see fit as long as they don’t violate any laws.”
Ben Oppenheim ’02, a senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, as well as a consulting scientist with the start-up Metabiota, writes about the importance of international collective action for pandemic preparedness.
Ben Oppenheim ’02, a consulting scientist with Metabiota, a start-up focusing on epidemiological modeling and epidemic risk preparedness, was recently invited to participate in a workshop at the National Academy of Medicine. As a result, Oppenheim and his colleagues wrote an article published in Lancet Global Health titled “Financing of International Collective Action for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness,” based on these meetings. Also writing for the Brookings Institution, Oppenheim further explored the challenges of responding to global outbreaks, offering a four-point plan to protect the global poor during pandemics, with co-author Gavin Yamey.
“Post-Ebola and Zika, there’s been increasing worry—and debate—about how to prepare for epidemics and pandemics that threaten global health,” notes Oppenheim, who is also a senior fellow and visiting scholar at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. “Cracking the problem means thinking through the ways that policy, economics, health, and other factors all intertwine. In the workshop, we were thinking about how to build incentives to improve disease surveillance and outbreak detection, as well as how to improve the legal and economic architecture to speed up the development of vaccines and therapeutics. All of this demands attention to everything from epidemiology, to financing, and to politics.”
Oppenheim also discussed the economic impacts of pandemics,
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David Lubell ’98
David Lubell ’98, founder and executive director of Welcoming America, was recently named the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize, which “recognizes young humanitarians whose work is inspired by their Jewish values and is of universal benefit to all people.”
Welcoming America is a non-profit organization that helps communities across the United States become inclusive to immigrants and refugees. Created in 2009, the organization has developed an award-winning social entrepreneurship model, using a local approach to ease tensions and build understanding between new and long-time residents. As rapid demographic shifts are changing communities, Lubell’s nationwide network helps newcomers of various backgrounds to fully participate alongside their neighbors – socially, civically and economically.
”As a Jewish American, nothing could make me feel more connected to my values, and to my history, than working to welcome immigrants and refugees to this country,” Lubell says on the Bronfman Prize website. “One of Judaism’s central teachings is to ‘welcome the stranger,’ to offer shelter to those in need and to accept those who we perceive to be different from us.”
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Laura Walker ’79, P’21, president and CEO of New York Public Radio, has been named to Crain’s list of Most Powerful Women in 2017. (Photo by Janice Yi)
Laura Walker ’79, P’21, president and CEO of New York Public Radio, was named to Crain’s Most Powerful Women list for 2017.
“Presiding over the largest public radio station group in the U.S., Laura Walker reaches 26 million listeners every month through the eight stations in her WNYC portfolio,” Crain’s Matthew Flamm wrote. “Dependent on grants and listener contributions—Walker has grown revenue by 68% over the past decade—WNYC has the freedom to explore sensitive issues on air and on demand.”
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Latasha Alcindor ’10
Brooklyn rapper Latasha Alcindor ’10, also informally known as LA, is following up the release of her debut album B(LA)K. with her newest project, Teen Nite at Empire. The project is named for the Empire Rolling Skating Center, a former nightlife venue in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, which closed its doors in 2007 due to increasing gentrification in the area. As described on her Bandcamp––where audiences can listen to and purchase the album––it is dedicated to “the around the way ones, 2 for $5 bootlegs and realizing freedom.” Having grown up frequenting and coming of age at Empire’s regularly hosted Teen Night, Alcindor uses music as a platform to remember and resurrect the culture that has been pushed out.
In a recent interview with Noisey, Alcindor discusses the significance of Empire to her experiences as a Caribbean-American teenager coming up in ’90s Brooklyn:
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