Alumni

Alumni news.

Hecht ’04 Finds the Irresistible Music for Commercial Clients

Jonathan Hecht ’04, whose company, Venn Art, finds the perfect music for commercial clients, was photographed at the premiere of a snowboarding documentary he worked on for Red Bull, The Art of Flight.

Jonathan Hecht ’04, whose company, Venn Arts, finds the perfect music for commercial clients, was photographed at the premiere of a snowboarding documentary, The Fourth Phase, which he worked on for Red Bull.

“Wait, turn that up! What is that song?”

If you’ve ever watched a commercial that became more significant the second you heard a song you just had to hear again, chances are Jonathan Hecht ’04—founder of Venn Arts—was behind its discovery.

His interest in pairing music with picture was inspired by the Paul Thomas Anderson film Boogie Nights: “I realized how different some of the musical selections were, but how they all fit together to create a sound and musical character for the film.”

He began to wonder if he could create a career out of this observation—which became Venn Arts, the music supervision company specializing in curating and procuring licensed music for commercial projects. Hecht took the name from a Venn diagram, with its “intersection or coming together of two things to make something unique,” he said. For Hecht, one of those “things” is always music: “There are so many nuanced emotions that can be inflected when you find the right music.”

Now, collaborating with brands such as Under Armour, Free People, Mercedes, and most recently, supervising the music for Subaru’s phenomenally effective “Love” ad campaign, he is gaining attention: Forbes recently wrote about his work as a music supervisor to Subaru’s marketing and rapid sales growth. “I’ve been working with Subaru’s ad agency, Carmichael Lynch, since 2011 and have placed more than 30 songs into national TV ads for the brand,” he says.  The campaign was also highlighted as “Ad of the Day” on Adweek.

Architecture Firm, Owned by Rich ’02, Praised for Innovative Design

Nathan Rich '02, contributed photo

Nathan Rich ’02

Architects Newspaper praised Nathan Rich ’02 and his firm, Peterson Rich Office (PRO) for the design of a new gallery-residential building at 282 Grand Street in New York City.

The building, which is located in the Lower East Side, covers 20,000 square feet and will house 20 condos, climbing to 80 feet. Aside from the two penthouses at the top level, the rest of the dwellings are 550 square-foot one-bedroom condos. The gallery space is larger than most galleries in the area, spanning 45 feet wide.

Each space is highly efficient and the building features an innovative perforated aluminum rain-screen façade, which doubles as a shading device and a panel for air exchange.

Rich and his firm were commended for keeping the design true to the area’s history. In an interview with The Wesleyan Connection, Rich said, “We love working on the Lower East Side. It’s the most dynamic residential neighborhood in New York City, and there is a deep history stored in every block. Our design draws from this history to create a contemporary and forward-thinking building that feels rooted in its site.”

Additionally, PRO has connections to Wesleyan. Rich explained, “Our first project as an office was to design a painting studio for Tula Telfair [professor of art] in Lyme, Conn. “My wife and business partner, Miriam Peterson, managed construction on the job while teaching in the Wesleyan architecture studio.”

The project will break ground on 228 Grand Street this spring and is scheduled to be finished in fall 2018.

Fowler, Gollust ’01 Author Paper on Insurance Enrollment, Advertising

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of The Wesleyan Media Project.

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of The Wesleyan Media Project.

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler is an author of a new paper released in HealthAffairs examining the link between health insurance changes after the first Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment period and the efforts of federal, state, and non-profit sponsors to market their products.

Fowler and her co-authors found that advertising worked—more ads for the ACA produced a significantly higher rate of insurance enrollment.

The study, conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota (including Sarah Gollust ’01), uses advertising and television news data from the Wesleyan Media Project. It is one of the key papers to come out of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation State Health Access Reform Evaluation (SHARE) grant for Wesleyan/University of Minnesota, on which Gollust is principal investigator and Fowler is co-PI.

The researchers considered the relationship between the volume of television insurance advertising in a given area during this time period and the area’s rate of uninsurance and Medicaid coverage before and after open enrollment (ie. In 2013 and 2014). They found that the percentage of the population younger than age 65 that lacked health insurance fell by an average of 2.9 percentage points between the two time periods. Counties with larger advertising volumes saw larger declines in uninsurance than other counties. For every increase of 1,000 insurance advertisements, there was a 0.1 percentage-point reduction in uninsurance. Furthermore, state-sponsored insurance ads had the strongest relationship with declines in uninsurance from 2013 to 2014, compared to ads from private, federal, and other sponsors. An increase of 1,000 state-sponsored insurance ads was associated with a 0.23 percentage-point reduction in uninsurance.

The researchers emphasized the particular importance of state-sponsored insurance advertisements in driving coverage improvements. They calculated that roughly 2.5 people gained insurance for every state-sponsored ad aired during the first open enrollment period, and that doubling this advertising would lead to a 1.19 percent reduction in the uninsured. While strategic investment in advertising will be important to increase the uptake of insurance going forward, the authors stress that the type of advertising might affect the responsiveness of consumers.

“Although Republican control of government and the recent American Health Care Act proposal brings much uncertainty to the ACA’s future, insurance advertising will remain an important feature of encouraging enrollment in any marketplace,” said Fowler.

‘Walking Elephants Home’ Project by Winkler ’16 Nominated for Conservation Grant

 Becca Winkler ’16

Becca Winkler ’16 launched “Walking Elephants Home,” a project that provides a new model of tourism, and has been nominated for a European Outdoor Conversation Association grant.

“Walking Elephants Home,” a Mahouts Educations Foundation (MEF) project launched and run by Becca Winkler ’16, has been nominated for the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) grant—and voting is open until March 23.

“From many conversations with elephant owners struggling to make ends meet and who were unhappy with the conditions their elephants live in at elephant camps, I could see that we needed a new model,” Winkler said. “The forests of Thailand have been home to the Asian elephant for thousands of years; it is their birthright. ‘Walking Elephants Home’ is on a mission to to prove that tourists should do the work to see elephants in their habitat, rather than removing the elephants and forcing them to live in a tourist camp for our benefit.”

Winkler, a Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies major who first began working with elephants in Thailand as an undergrad, wrote her thesis on “Walking with Giants: Eco-feminist Insights on Elephant Tourism in Thailand.” She received a Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship grant in 2016 that helped her launch and run “Walking Elephants Home” through the MEF, a nonprofit that supports elephants and their mahouts (owners) in Thailand. Collaborating with indigenous people, the MEF offers a successful business model with ethical tourism alternatives to those who free their elephants. Their goal is to not only improve the elephants’ well-being by returning them to their natural habitat but also enhances biodiversity and prevents further deforestation.

Bloom ’75 Hosts Talk On Women’s Physical and Emotional Health

Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom ’75, director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing and the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, leveraged her more than 30 years of experience as a licensed clinical social worker to be a featured guest speaker at “Lady Parts: Car Talk for Women’s Bodies Fundraiser,” which took place March 5 at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

The afternoon was a blend of comedy and candid conversation. Bloom and co-host, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a Yale-trained OB-GYN, gave audience members an avenue to discuss everything from hormones and menopause, to lactation, STDs, contraceptives and pregnancy. “It was an opportunity to learn and ask all you ever wanted to know about you body, but were too afraid to ask.”

The event served as a fundraiser for the Women and Family Life Center (W&FL)—a place, which empowers women and their families to face challenges and transitions in their lives with grace and dignity. The Center offers individual guided referrals, as well as, support and wellness programs for women and their families to find help as they face divorce, violence, bankruptcy, bereavement or other major life challenges. Bloom and Dr. Minkin have done this show numerous times as fundraisers for organizations focusing on women’s lives and health, throughout the state.

Bloom is a distinguished author, having been nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her repertoire currently includes, three novels, three collections of short stories, a children’s book, and a collection of essays. More on Bloom and her work can be found by visiting her website.

O’Shaughnessy ’08, Springer ’13, Pasarow ’13 Offer Career Advice in Publishing

Three young alumni in the publishing industry Anabel Pasarow ’13, Danielle Spring ’16, and Caitlin O'Shaughnessy ’08, returned to campus to offer tips and answer questions at a panel discussion sponsored by the English Department.

Three alumnae in the publishing industry, Anabel Pasarow ’16, Danielle Springer ’13 and Caitlin O’Shaughnessy ’08, returned to campus on Feb. 24 to offer tips and answer questions at a panel discussion.

On Feb. 24, three recent Wesleyan alumnae returned to campus for a panel conversation on “Finding a Career Path in Publishing.” The event, held in Downey House, was co-sponsored by the Department of English, Writing Programs and the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing.

Caitlin O’Shaughnessy ’08, Anabel Pasarow ’16, and Danielle Springer ’13 traced their career history and offered encouragement and tips to undergraduate audience.

O’Shaughnessy, marketing manager at Penguin Press, a division of Penguin Random House, had previously worked as an editor at Viking, and in publicity at InStyle magazine. Currently, she is also part-time student in the MBA program at NYU Stern. “Anabel, Danielle, and I talk about Wesleyan all the time at Penguin,” said O’Shaughnessy, “It was really interesting to compare our paths and try to figure out the best advice to impart to future Wes grads who are looking to get into the business.”

Springer, an editorial and publisher’s assistant at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, previously worked in publicity at Dutton Books. In preparation for her career, she had attended the Denver Publishing Institute. Glad to return to campus and experiencing a certain degree of nostalgia, Springer says she found it “very rewarding being the ‘expert’ on a topic,” also commenting on the high turnout for the Friday afternoon event, “considering that it was a gorgeous warm day and Foss Hill was surely calling”—and by the questions that were asked.

Pasarow, an editorial assistant at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, majored in English and math—and finds both useful in her career. “I was so happy to be a part of this panel,” she said, adding, “I haven’t been out of school for very long, so returning to campus sort of felt like returning home. It was great to see familiar faces in Downey, where I spent so much of my time at Wes.”

Professor of English Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, who chairs the department, was also pleased to see “successful Wesleyan graduates returning to campus to give back to current students.” Grateful to the panelists, Weiner emphasized the importance of their visit: “Students today are inspired when they have the chance to meet alumni,” she said. “It helps them imagine themselves in the future.”

Lonergan ’84 Wins Oscar for Manchester by the Sea

oscarnews_homepage2 copyKenneth Lonergan ’84 won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Manchester by the Sea at last night’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards ceremony, while Casey Affleck took home the Actor in a Leading Role award for his part in the film. Lonergan wrote and directed Manchester by the Sea, which also received nominations in the film, director (Lonergan), actress in a supporting role and actor in a supporting role categories. Jennifer Lame ’04 served as film editor for the production.

Other Wesleyan alumni receiving nominations this year included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15., for Best Original Song for “How Far I’ll Go” from the Disney animated film Moanaand Jenno Topping ’89, who received a nomination as one of the producers of Best Film nominee Hidden Figures, the historical drama about a female team of African-American mathematicians who played a vital role in the early years of the U.S. space program.

In addition, Rick Nicita ’67 is an executive producer of Best Film nominee Hacksaw Ridge, the true story of World War II army medic Desmond T. Doss, who became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot; David Laub, visiting professor in film studies at Wesleyan, is an acquisitions executive at A24, the distributor of Moonlightwhich took home the Oscar for Best Film; and Ines Farag ’11 was the archival researcher on O.J. Made in America which took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Wesleyan Named A Fulbright Student Top Producer

Wesleyan University has recently been recognized as a Fulbright Student Top Producer for the 2016-2017 academic year.

As the flagship program for international research, study, and teaching, sponsored by the U.S. Government, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is available for recent graduate and graduate students to explore their research topics, as well as cultivate a meaningful cultural experience in over 140 countries.A bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) is generally required by the start of the Fulbright grant period. Wesleyan has produced more than 140 Fulbright students from 1943 – 2015, with seven more recent graduates and alumni making up the 2016 – 2017 class of mentioned below:

Leah Bakely ’16 is a teaching assistant Fulbright in Spain. She wants to use her teaching skills in Spain because it offers her the opportunity to meaningfully engage with her academic interests and career aspirations, and improve her language skills.

Shumlin ’79 Speaks to Wesleyan Community about Climate Change

On Feb. 23, Peter Shumlin ’79, who served as Governor of Vermont from 2011-2017, spoke to members of the Wesleyan community about climate change. Shumlin has been a pioneer in developing state-level policies to combat climate change, including the 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan with a goal of achieving 90 percent renewable energy in Vermont by 2050. Under his watch, 15,000 jobs were created in clean energy, solar panels increased by 1000 percent while the cost of solar fell 60 percent, and wind generation increased 400 percent.

During his talk in Shanklin Laboratory, Shumlin said Vermont is far better prepared for the next major storm, like hurricane Irene, because the state has rebuilt infrastructure with the impacts of climate change in mind. He suggested that Vermont provides a model that other states could follow for switching to renewables. Failure to adapt, he said, could lead to a dismal future, and he urged Wesleyan students to fight at the local and state level for a better future.

Shumlin also took numerous questions and comments from the audience.

(Photos by Will Bar ’18)

Peter Shumlin ’79, Governor of Vermont 2011-2017, has been a pioneer in developing state-level policies to combat climate change, including the 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan with a goal of achieving 90% renewable energy in Vermont by 2050.

alu_shumlin_2017-0223203425

Bronstein ’89, Selkow ’96 join Reza Aslan for CNN Documentary Series ‘Believer’

“We have to give a shout-out to Jeanine Basinger, who changed all of our lives with her incredible mind and teaching,” Bronstein adds. “Exactly—teaching the principles of story, the foundation of drama and cinema, which we were rigorous in trying to apply to the series.”—Selkow Adds Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies:  “I am really looking forward to seeing this show.  I’m very excited that two of my very best film students, Ben and Liz, are working together on this.  It’s a good example of the collaboration that all students who study film at Wesleyan learn.

Two film alumni, Liz Bronstein ’89 and Ben Selkow ’96 collaborated on the new CNN series, Believer. “We have to give a shout-out to Jeanine Basinger, who changed all of our lives with her incredible mind and teaching,” Bronstein notes.
Selkow concurs, adding “She taught us the principles of story, the foundation of drama and cinema, which we were rigorous in trying to apply to the series.”
For her part, Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies says she’s looking forward to the show. “I’m very excited that two of my very best film students, Ben and Liz, are working together on this. It’s a good example of the collaboration that all students who study film at Wesleyan learn.”

A new CNN original series, Believer with Reza Aslan, premieres Sunday, March 5, at 10 p.m. ET. Billed as a “spiritual adventure series,” in which Aslan, acclaimed author and religious scholar, will “immerse himself in the world’s most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer.” The show employs the talents of two alumni who majored in film at Wesleyan: executive producer and show runner Liz Bronstein ’89 and director Ben Selkow ’96. Additionally, Professor of Religion Liza McAlister provided both academic scholarship and on-the-ground connections when the crew traveled to Haiti for the segment on Vodou, which will air as third in the series.

Bronstein joined the project soon after a close friend sold Believer to CNN. “He told me, ‘This is the show you were born to run—and he was right.” Growing up with a “spiritually curious mother” who’d often invite different gurus to their home—and with a sister who’d left to join what the family viewed as a cult—Bronstein welcomed this opportunity “to tell the stories that I’d always wanted to tell.”

She began searching for a nonfiction television director who was also a filmmaker. Selkow fit the bill, and, like Bronstein, came with a unique backstory: he had spent most of his youth living with his mother on a religious commune. Both envisioned the show as an immersive experience. The team formed a tight bond, which became crucial in what Selkow calls “dicey situations.”

In one of these (see the trailer), Aslan is seated on the sand next to a cannibalistic tribe member, whose gestures and mood turn threatening. Aslan calls Selkow over from off-camera for assistance.

“The adage in filmmaking is that when you stop rolling, that’s when the action gets good—so we kept rolling,” Selkow recalls. “And It’s amazing to watch the scene unfold, with Reza slowly realizing that he’s in a perhaps dangerous situation and figuring out how to handle it.”

The new CNN series, Believer with Reza Aslan takes viewers on an immersive tour with the noted scholar, with Liz Bronstein ’89 as executive producer and Ben Selkow ’96 as director.

The new CNN series, Believer with Reza Aslan takes viewers on an immersive tour with the noted scholar, with Liz Bronstein ’89 as executive producer and Ben Selkow ’96 as director. (Photo © Ben Selkow)

One of the biggest challenges in filming the show was gaining access to religious communities that were often closed off and wary of outsiders. Bronstein found that working with academic scholars who had done extensive field research often opened a lot of doors in local communities.

For the episode exploring Vodou in Haiti, she researched foremost scholars: “Everybody we talked to said, ‘Liza McAlister is the one.’”

In the episode, McAlister provides Aslan with both the historical and cultural perspective on Vodou. “But more than that, she acted as an incredible ambassador and helped us get access to people we wouldn’t have known,” said Bronstein.

“You could see her years of work in the community,” said Selkow. “She was deeply trusted—and Reza would mine her for as much info as he could off-camera.”

More than gaining access, integrating cultural knowledge, and immersing themselves in the experience, the filmmakers had a further challenge:

“How are we going to tell stories about religion in a way that’s visually and emotionally exciting?” asks Bronstein. “In hour-long episodes, how will Reza participate? Scenes of people praying and mediating don’t make for the best TV. So figuring out what Reza would be doing was paramount.”

The team worked with a thesis statement for each episode, often finding the dramatic structure through a conflict. “Most episodes look at a religion that’s under siege or at least highly misunderstood for a variety of reasons,” Selkow says.

Bronstein gives an example: “For Scientology, we asked, ‘Is this what a religious reformation looks like?’ We focus on people who have left the Church of Scientology but still believe that L. Ron Hubbard is their prophet. We compare it to the Protestant reformation. The true believers featured in the series feel like, ‘The church may be corrupt, but we’re taking back the religion and doing it our way.'”

Despite preparation, the team found surprises: “With our Wesleyan film background, Liz and I know that you go into each documentary super prepared—and the outline goes out the window the first day your feet hit the ground. We’d watch Reza starting every time with ‘All right; this is what I can expect to happen,’ and then there would be a great revelation and we’d watch him go through that—and it was extraordinary.”

While the show was filmed a year ago, the two agree that the series is even more relevant today. “It demonstrates compassion for others, domestically and globally,” says Selkow.

Bronstein concurs. “During the filming of each segment we had different people on the set look at the camera and finish this sentence: ‘I believe…’. I thought it might be a cool way to end each episode. It was just an experiment we thought we’d try and it ended up working pretty well. Now CNN is doing a campaign where users can send in their own ‘I believe’ videos. In these crazy times there’s so much need for tolerance and respect for others who don’t share your beliefs.”

The production crew of Believer joined Reza Aslan in Mexico for ceremonies celebrating Santa Muerte. (Photo © Ben Selkow)

The production crew of Believer joined Reza Aslan in Mexico for ceremonies honoring Santa Muerte. (Photo © Ben Selkow)

Medina ’00, MD, MPH, Explores Structural Racism in Health Care

Eduardo Medina ’00, M.D. (photo credit: Emily Rumsey Photography )

Eduardo Medina ’00, MD, MPH, is one of the authors of “Structural Racism and Supporting Black Lives,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Photo by Emily Rumsey Photography)

When the news broke of Philando Castile’s tragic death at the hands of a St. Paul police officer last summer, Eduardo Medina ’00, MD, MPH, like many Americans, felt called to action. As a native of New York City and a Minneapolis resident for the past 10 years, he was familiar with a number of high profile cases of police misconduct and says that he felt compelled to address the structural racism that was the underlying cause of this tragedy.

Working with colleagues Dr. Rachel Hardeman and Dr. Katy Kozhimannil, both professors in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, they set out to address the link between premature deaths, both in the criminal justice system and in the healthcare system in America.

Their efforts culminated in “Structural Racism and Supporting Black Lives — The Role of Health Professionals” published last December in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. In it, the authors assert that structural racism not only plagues American policing practices, but has also corrupted the ways in which American doctors care for their patients.

Different from interpersonal racism, structural racism is, they write, “a confluence of institutions, culture, history, ideology, and codified practices that generate and perpetuate inequity among racial and ethnic groups,” so while few physicians express overt racism, they still work within a racist system. Medina cites evidence that, African American’s receive fewer referrals for cardiac catheterization and children of color often receive less adequate pain management in emergency rooms. This is, the authors believe, something that the field needs to more thoroughly acknowledge. Yet as they astutely note in their article, the term “racism” scarcely appears in medical literature.

Their research featured a shocking statistic about race and medicine in America. Citing a study published earlier in 2016, that found “50% of white medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biologic differences between black and white people,” such as: the blood of black people coagulates more quickly; the skin of black people is thicker than that of white people.

“Sadly, these misconceptions do not entirely surprise me,”Medina says, “considering America’s history of perpetuating the myth of differences based on racial classification, segregated care and medical experimentation on communities of color.”

To tackle these inequities, medical professionals “will have to recognize racism, not just race,” they write. Instead of simply attributing health disparities solely to biological differences, professionals ought to also examine other, broader, more structural factors that influence the health of their patients. A solution, the authors propose, is to integrate anti-racism programs along with traditional healthcare when dealing with illnesses such as diabetes, whose complications disproportionately effect black Americans.

Medina’s integration of social justice and medicine, he notes, actually echoes a history of political activism among Latin American physicians, like Che Guevara and Salvador Allende, something he studied as a Latin American Studies major, even while on the pre-med track at Wesleyan.

“Wesleyan offered a lot of opportunities that I was able to build on as I went forward with my career,” he says. Outside class, he found a “rich intellectual, cultural and spiritual community” particularly among students of color. Medina even had the opportunity to fulfill his work-study at a local health care clinic.

Today, Medina still keeps up with several Wesleyan friends, including Lauren Gilchrist ’99, Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor of  Minnesota. Meanwhile, he and his spouse, Dr. Hardeman, intend to keep fighting for justice and equity for marginalized patients. “As medical professionals of color if we’re not doing this work,” he asks, “then who else is?”