Alumni

Alumni news.

Dreier ’08 of ProPublica Wins Pulitzer for Feature Writing

Hannah Dreier ’08, a journalist with ProPublica reporting on immigration issues, received a 2019 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. (Photo by Carlos Becerra)

Hannah Dreier ’08, a journalist with ProPublica, was announced the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing on April 15.

The New York Times reported: “Ms. Dreier’s detailed portraits of Salvadoran immigrants were cited for exposing how their lives had been destroyed ‘by a botched federal crackdown on the international criminal gang MS-13.’ After Ms. Dreier, 32, heard President Trump tie immigration to gang violence, her reporting revealed that immigrants were often victims of the crime groups. ‘What was so cruel was that this population was being preyed upon,’ she said. The series was published jointly with The New York Times Magazine, Newsday, and New York magazine.” ProPublica calls itself “a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.”

Dreier, who was awarded the James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award at Reunion last year for writing that conveys “unusual insights and understanding of current and past events,” also spoke on a WESeminar panel about journalism today, highlighted in Wesleyan magazine. Dreier had worked in Venezuela several years ago and spoke about the polarized atmosphere in that country, comparing it to our current political climate.

She told the WESeminar attendees, “My approach has been to try to focus on telling concrete personal stories and trying to just pile enough detail that people can decide for themselves what they think is happening and how they feel about it.” As an undergraduate, she majored in the College of Letters.

Read a Q&A with Dreier in this Wesleyan Argus article.

Woodcarver Yorburg ’77 to Speak on Jewish Immigrant Carvers

In his workshop, he carves a new leg and hoof for an antique carousel horse. (Photo by Melissa Rocha)

In his workshop, Bob Yorburg ’77 carves a new leg and hoof for an antique carousel horse. Yorburg will be speaking on “Coney Island Jewish Immigrant Carvers” at the Bushnell Park Carousel on April 28. (Photo by Melissa Rocha)

Bob Yorburg ’77, a master woodcarver renowned for his antique restorations of turn-of-the-20th-century carousels and calliopes, notes that the Jewish immigrant carvers of that era “raised the art of carousel carving to a new level.”

“Their realism and extraordinary ornamentation defined the Coney Island style of carousel carving,” he writes.

Additionally, these brilliant carvers translated their secular art into ornamentation that graced the historic synagogues of Brooklyn.

Offering a photographic journey into the workshops of some of these artists—Marcus Charles Illions, Charles Carmel, along with Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein—Yorburg will be speaking on “Coney Island Jewish Immigrant Carvers” at the Bushnell Park Carousel in Hartford, Conn., at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 28. Tickets are $10 by reservation only and may be purchased by calling 860-585-5411.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. The Middletown Press“Wesleyan Students Helping Former Prisoners to Gain Job Skills”

Wesleyan Students for Ending Mass Incarceration (SEMI) is a group of students working to help formerly incarcerated individuals acclimate back into society by providing them with job skills. The goal, according to member Asiyah Herrero ’22, is “making re-entry into the workforce a little bit easier. There are usually a lack of resources when people get out of prison, and starting to look for work, especially because there are a lot of jobs that do discriminate or have discriminatory ideas about people who have been in prison.”

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors

In the first of a continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers this selection for those in search of insight and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

In 2004, Susan Lanzoni ’85 read an O Magazine interview of then U.S. Senator Barack Obama, in which he said that, more than America’s budget or trade deficit, he was concerned about an “empathy deficit” in our country. The use of the word “empathy” has only increased over the past 15 years, and many would say for good reason. In Empathy: A History (Yale University Press, 2018), Lanzoni explores empathy as a tool, a technique, a practice, and an aspiration, involving the body, the mind, and the imagination. She tracks the word from its early conception as a translation of the German word Einfühlung (“in-feeling”)—a psychological term used to describe how spectators projected their own feelings into objects of art and nature—to its current usage, which more closely resembles the opposite of projection. In addition to her discussion of the etymology of empathy, Lanzoni investigates the limits and possibilities of empathy in art, science, psychology, popular culture, and politics to present an all-encompassing look at the evolution of how we understand what it means to place ourselves in the world around us.

Who Are the Great Americans? Paintings by Lahav ’00 Spark Conversations

This portrait of George Washington by Jac Lahav ’00 is part of the project, The Great Americans, now on exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme, Conn., until May 12. (Photo by Tammi Flynn)

The paintings: Oprah is elegantly coiffed, gowned in a long blue dress, into which a portrait of her in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been etched. Lincoln, his sad visage rising above the American flag that envelops him, stands in front of a reproduction of a painting by Henry Ogden, “The Battle of Spotsylvania.” Afong Moy, the first woman from China to arrive in the United States, is clad in a culturally traditional red wedding dress, hands primly—or nervously?—clasped at her waist; her head entirely concealed by a veil. We’ll never see her face—which the artist hopes might prod us to consider: Would we have remembered it anyway?

These are just three from The Great Americans, a show by artist Jac Lahav ’00, on exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme, Conn., until May 12. The work is attracting interest from both critics and schoolchildren alike, sparking dialogues among patrons responding to an implicit question behind the title: What makes someone “great”? Do the Americans shown here fit these criteria? 

While he was still in grad school, that question was the starting point for Lahav. He’d been watching a Discovery Channel miniseries, Greatest American, and his attention was captured by the debates that arose around naming a top-10 group. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln easily made the list. But the audience was divided between Jonas Salk or Oprah Winfrey, illustrating the difficulty: What is the definition of “great.” While Salk is the creator of the polio vaccine and might initially be a shoo-in, his legacy is more complicated, notes Lahav: His vaccine is no longer the one in use today, and his collaborators felt that Salk had ignored their contributions in favor of personal celebrity.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The GlobePost: “Trump’s Foreign Trade Policy and the Art of the Deal”

In this op-ed, Giulio Gallarotti, professor of government, co-chair of the College of Social Studies, argues that Donald Trump’s approach to U.S. trade policy is shaped by his career as a real estate mogul and businessman.

2. The Hartford Courant: “Don’t Let the ‘Green New Deal’ Hijack the Climate’s Future”

This op-ed coauthored by Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe expresses concern that the broad, aspirational goals contained in the “Green New Deal” proposal from Democrats in Congress “will impede continued progress on the climate front for years to come.”

3. The Tyee: “Lessons in Democracy from Haida Gwaii”

This review calls Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life Beyond Settler Colonialism by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Joseph Weiss a “remarkable book” that explores “the whole relationship of ‘settler’ Canada to the peoples whose lands we’ve occupied.”

4. Hartford Courant: “Middletown to Host LGBTQ Pride Parade in June”

Wesleyan, together with the City of Middletown and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, will coordinate Middletown’s inaugural LGBTQ pride parade on June 15. The event, which will also feature a festival on the South Green, will celebrate and affirm respect for members of the local queer community. Its timing coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement in June 1969.

5. South Dakota Public Broadcasting: “Fishbacks’ Gift Opens SDPB Basinger Studio at SDSU”

A satellite broadcast studio at South Dakota State University has been named in honor of Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, special advisor to the president, and an alumna of SDSU. “We are pleased to recognize SDSU Distinguished Alumni and world-renowned film educator and author Jeanine Basinger with the new SDPB Basinger Studio on SDSU’s campus in Brookings,” said Barb and Van Fishback, the donors who made the gift possible.

Recent Alumni News

  1. SXSW.com: “Bozoma Saint John [’99]: How Marketing Can Spur Social Change”

Bozoma Saint John ’99 was the Convergence Keynote Speaker for SXSWORLD, March 8-17, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Writes Doyin Oyeniyi for the official website: “Bozoma Saint John thinks and talks about empathy quite a bit. For the marketing executive and SXSW 2019 Convergence Keynote speaker, this is integral to the work that she does currently as chief marketing officer for Endeavor, and it’s been an important feature of her previous work with companies such as PepsiCo, Apple and Uber. As she explains, empathy is what makes the difference in actually being able to establish impactful connections through storytelling and marketing.”

2. New York Times Book Review: “Growing Up With Murder All Around,” by Eric Klinenberg

The March 4, 2019, issue of The New York Times Book Review features Eric Klinenberg’s review of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, by Alex Kotlowitz ’77 on its front page. “Like Kotlowitz’s now classic 1991 book, There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in a Chicago housing project, An American Summer forgoes analysis and instead probes the human damage that stems from exposure to violence. What he finds is important,” writes Klinenberg. He calls Kotlowitz’s latest work “a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents, or to register the depth of their pain.”

3. International Documentary Awards: “Reflections on Andrew Berends [’94],” by James Longley ’94

An editor’s note begins the piece: “Documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Andrew Berends passed away—just a week after Free Solo, on which he was one of the cinematographers, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary…. We thank Longley for sharing his reflections with us.”

Longley recalls meeting Berends in 1991, when they both entered Wesleyan as transfer students and became film majors. “I was the DP on his thesis film, and I could see his determination and commitment to filmmaking taking shape,” writes Longley. “After college we were off finding our parallel paths; I made a film about the Gaza Strip and he made a film about North Sea fishermen in the Netherlands. We reconnected in Iraq. I arrived before him; he was looking for advice and contacts. He wanted to know how he should dress for the place. Maybe grow a beard, I suggested. Andy showed up in Baghdad looking like a werewolf with mange. Lose the beard, I suggested.” Tracing their “parallel paths” with warmth, admiration, and deep sorrow, Longley—himself the director of award-winning documentary films including Iraq in Fragments and Sari’s Mother—notes that “Andy was my friend, he was my brother, he was as strong a person as I’ll likely ever know.”

4. Boston Globe: “Grad Schools Lag in Promoting Diversity,” by Syed Ali [’13]

The author, a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University, responded to an earlier article in the newspaper that called for Harvard to increase its commitment to diversity across its graduate school hirings and admissions. “This semester, I am enrolled in five classes at five different graduate schools (three at Harvard, two at MIT), and I believe that my peers and I would benefit from additional perspectives in each case. This extends to the faculty. Of the 15 courses I shopped across three Harvard graduate schools, 11 were taught by white men, four by white women,” he writes. Ali was an English and government double major at Wesleyan.

 

 

 

Audio Book Narrator Ballerini ’92 Wins Audie Award—Again

Edoardo Ballerini ’92

Edoardo Ballerini ’92 was named Best Male Narrator for his work on Watchers, by Dean Koontz, at the 2019 Audie Awards, sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association. He had also won this award three years earlier for Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters, and has narrated the work from a wide variety of authors, including Dante, the Dalai Lama, James Patterson, and Franz Kafka. (Photo by Max Flatow)

This year at the 24th annual Audie Awards, held on Feb. 4, Edoardo Ballerini ’92 was named Best Male Narrator for his work on Watchers by Dean Koontz.

The awards are sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association. In this winning entry, Ballerini was cited for “do[ing] a top-notch job of narrating this story. Listeners join Travis Cornell, who is hiking while trying to make sense of his life. When he chances upon an apparently stray golden retriever, things will never be the same. Ballerini creates a balance of warmth and suspense that reflects the heartwarming, yet at times frightening, aspects of the plot. He helps to characterize the three protagonists, including Einstein, the highly intelligent dog.”

This was Ballerini’s second time to receive the Audie for Best Male Narrator. In 2013, he stepped up to the podium for his work on Jess Walters’s Beautiful Ruins. But it’s not only modern fiction that finds its voice through Ballerini. His narration has made vibrant the books by a wide range of authors across centuries, including those by Dante, the Dalai Lama, James Patterson, and Franz Kafka.

Ballerini began working in film and television as a recent graduate, “then audiobooks kind of came to me,” he said. “Somebody asked me if I would record a version of The Prince, by Machiavelli, and I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’”

That was in 2007, when the audiobook industry started taking off. Although this form had been around for decades, the industry has been growing rapidly in recent years: in 2018 alone audiobook revenue increased 22.7 percent. While this uptick has been attributed to advancing technology, which makes it easier to stream or download and listen anywhere, Ballerini thinks other factors are at play.

Dachs ’98 Receives Sci-Tech Oscar for PIX System

Eric Dachs ’98, founder and CEO of PIX System, accepts a Sci-Tech Oscar for technical achievement. “For over 15 years, serving the talent in this industry has been a profound honor,” he said. “We are humbled and grateful to the academy for recognizing our efforts.” (Photo courtesy of AMPAS)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) honored Eric Dachs ’98, the founder and CEO of PIX System, with a Technical Achievement Award at its Oscars 2019 Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation on Feb. 9, 2019.

Since its creation in 2003, PIX System has become the entertainment industry gold standard in providing secure communication and content management capabilities. Dachs, a theater major while at Wesleyan, designed and coded the initial software early in his career when he was an assistant to sound designer Ren Klyce for Panic Room. It was then that he saw the need for an easy, safe digital platform to share revisions and collaborate across locations.

Accepting the Oscar along with three members of his team—director of R&D Erik Bielefeldt, technical director Craig Wood, and Paul McReynolds—Dachs said, “For over 15 years, serving the exceptional talent in this industry has been a profound honor. We are humbled and grateful to the Academy for recognizing our efforts.” Among those he thanked were clients, as well as the open-source community “whose often unrecognized critical efforts make PIX possible,” and family and friends.

Dachs’s PIX System was used in production of eight Oscar-winning films this year, including A Star Is Born, Black Panther, First Man, Green Book, Roma, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

For Dachs, Wesleyan’s creative liberal arts education was the basis for his achievement in technology and business. A transfer student, he focused on sound design in both film and theater, using analog and the then-new digital equipment.

Student-Led Ventures Win $5,000 Entrepreneurship Seed Grants

Sydney Ochieng ’22, founder of Accessible and Affordable Sanitation for Women (AASW), is one of four recipients to receive a 2019 Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship (PCSE) Seed Grant. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

On March 4, not three, but four student-run ventures received $5,000 seed grants from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship (PCSE). The unrestricted funding is accompanied with training, advising, mentoring, incubator workspace, and other resources from the Patricelli Center.

On March 1, six finalists pitched for a panel of judges in Allbritton 311.

“As always, the competition was steep, and the judges had a tough time selecting grantees,” said Makaela Kingsley ’98, director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “In fact, this year they decided to make a special donation to the Patricelli Center so we could offer four grants instead of the usual three.”

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Forbes: “Three Questions to Ask Yourself at the Beginning of Your Career”

Sharon Belden Castonguay, director of the Gordon Career Center, offers career advice for young people just starting out.

2. The Times Literary Supplement: “Multiple Lives”

Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English, coordinator of South Asian studies, explores the “complicated existence” of Mahatma Gandhi.

3. The Washington Post: “The Delight of Being Inconspicuous in a World That’s Always Watching Us”

President Michael Roth reviews a new book, How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency, by Akiko Busch.

Yannatta ’91: Opium Moon Wins Grammy on Her Be Why Music Label

Grammy Celebration: Julie Yannatta ’91 (left), founder and CEO of Be Why Music, with Opium Moon (l. to r.: M.B. Gordy, Lili Haydn, Itai Disraeli, Hamid Saeidi), whose debut album, Opium Moon, won a Grammy for Best New Age Album in 2018. (Photo courtesy Julie Yannatta ’91)

When Opium Moon won the Grammy Award for the Best New Age Album this year, “Thank you, Julie Yannatta…” were the first words from singer/violinist Lili Haydn’s lips once she reached the stage.

Yannatta ’91 is founder and owner of Be Why Music, the label that released the self-titled debut album by the eclectic band—Lili Haydn on violin/voice, Hamid Saeidi on santoor (Persian hammered dulcimer) and voice, M.B. Gordy on ancient percussion, and Itai Disraeli on fretless bass. Their haunting music draws from each member’s cultural traditions: Iran, Israel, Canada, and the United States.

Yannatta, with a career path as eclectic as the roots of this music—a lawyer and musician who moved back to the States from Finland in 2005—calls the variety in her pursuits “the gift of my Wesleyan education: my absolute fearlessness to do whatever it is I’m inclined or excited to do.”

Arevalo Mateus PhD ’13 Named Lead Scholar for NY State Archives Documentation Plan

Jorge Arévalo Mateus

Jorge Arévalo Mateus earned a PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan in 2013.

Jorge Arévalo Mateus PhD ’13 is a lead scholar on a developing plan for The New York State Archives. The plan will focus on the collection and preservation of, as well as accessibility to, records involving under-documented topics and communities.

Arévalo Mateus will guide the research process of the project, which will include surveys on collections and communities and regional meetings across the state. The project is one of the Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York (DHPSNY), a statewide program that supports a network of library and archival repositories that contain New York’s historical records and is in conversation with other collecting institutions in the state.