Alumni

Alumni news.

Alumni Gather in London for Artists Reception, Honoring Gittes ’10

Artist Michael Gittes ’10, at right, speaks to fellow alumni and guests about his recent work during a gathering in London.

Forty-three Wesleyan alumni, students, parents, and friends gathered in London on July 3 for a reception featuring artist Michael Gittes ’10.

Gittes, an American studies major, discussed his work, which is being displayed as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit, Michael Jackson on the Wall. For the exhibit, Gittes created an experimental video.

In addition, alumni Glenn Ligon ’82, Jonathan Horowitz ’87, and Lyle Ashton Harris ’88 also have works exhibited in the gallery.

Duvvuri ’17 Awarded Chambliss Award for Astronomy Research

Girish Duvvuri ’17 presented his research titled “Necroplanetology: Disrupted Planetary Material Transiting WDII45+017.” His advisor is Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy.

Girish Duvvuri ’17 presented his research titled “Necroplanetology: Disrupted Planetary Material Transiting WDII45+017″ at a poster session in 2017.

In recognition of his exemplary research at Wesleyan, astronomy major Girish Duvvuri ’17 has been awarded a Chambliss medal from the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

Duvvuri, who majored in astronomy, physics, and English, received the award during the 232nd AAS Meeting June 3–7 in Denver, Colo.

There, he presented a study that formed much of his senior thesis at Wesleyan. Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, and co-coordinator of planetary science, served as Duvvuri’s advisor.

To be eligible for an award, work featured on a poster must have been done within the past year and while the presenter was an undergraduate or graduate student.

Duvvuri is currently a PhD student in astronomy at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Leung ’16 Awarded Prestigious Congress-Bundestag Fellowship

Melissa Leung '16 (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Melissa Leung ’16 (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Melissa Leung ’16 is 1 of 75 Americans selected to participate in the 2018–2019 Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals, a yearlong fellowship for study and work in Germany. CBYX for Young Professionals provides opportunities for youth to collaborate, interact with new people and new ideas, and, ultimately, to become better global citizens and better leaders. The program annually provides scholarships to 350 Americans and also brings 360 Germans to the United States.

While in Germany, Leung will attend a two-month intensive German language course, study at a German university or professional school for four months, and complete a five-month internship with a German company in her career field (foreign aid). Participants are placed throughout Germany and have the opportunity to learn about everyday German life from a variety of perspectives.

Funded jointly by Congress (through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) and the German Bundestag, the CBYX program is a unique opportunity for young Americans to enhance their professional skills, as well as broaden their political and cultural awareness by experiencing life in another country. Leung will act as a citizen ambassador of the United States, helping to promote a positive image of the U.S. abroad and creating lifelong friendships and professional connections that will keep German-American relations strong for years to come.

Participants must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 18–24, and have clear career goals and experience in their professional fields. Young professionals in STEM, business, agricultural, and vocational fields are especially encouraged to apply, though candidates in all career fields are eligible. This year more than 600 young professionals vied for a place in this prestigious program.

Alumni, Students Celebrate 150 Years of Argus

On May 26, a Wesleyan Argus 150th Anniversary Celebration was held at Russell House during Reunion & Commencement Weekend. Current students and alumni, who contributed to the Argus from the 1970s through the present day, shared memories, caught up with old friends, and discussed the state of journalism today. (Photos by Tom Dzimian and Olivia Drake.)

The reception was held at Russell House, and was co-sponsored by Wesleyan's Writing Certificate.

The reception was held at Russell House, and was cosponsored by Wesleyan’s Writing Certificate.

Guralnick ’83 Explores the Art of Order in Remodelista: The Organized Home

Margot Guralnick ’83 (Photo by Laure Joliet)

In this Q&A, Margot Guralnick ’83, coauthor of Remodelista: The Organized Home, speaks about her new book. The website, The Organized Home, features daily tips and ideas on discovering the art of order.

Q: The current organizing philosophies are all about order over beauty. You believe order doesn’t have to be artless. Tell us about how you developed your philosophy.

A: This idea is part of the core philosophy at Remodelista. We’re a 10-year-old website that Julie Carlson, my coauthor, founded to demystify the home design process and celebrate pared-back living. So we, of course, took an interest in Marie Kondo and the whole decluttering movement. Noting that the focus was on clearing out with no mention of how to live well, we felt compelled to join the dialogue.

Q: Were you a collector as a child?

MGMT’s Goldwasser ’05, VanWyngarden ’05 Release 4th Album

MGMT, a musical group formed in 2002 by Andrew VanWyngarden ’05 and Ben Goldwasser ’05, is back on the scene with their fourth album Little Dark Age, released in 2018. This recent release is their first in half a decade and it represents a fresh, but familiar, musical direction.

Unlike their last two albums, which veered towards the eccentric, Little Dark Age exhibits a clear pop influence and psychedelic retro synths with haunting, serious, and dark undertones.

In their eponymous song, “Little Dark Age,” for instance, they hint at a quotidian melancholy in the first verse:

“The ruins of the day/ Painted with a scar/ And the more I straighten out/ The less it wants to try/ The feelings start to rot/ One wink at a time.”

Then, in the chorus, VanWyngarden croons into the mic, “Oh I grieve in stereo/ The stereo sounds strange.”

Like many alumni musicians, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser got their start on campus. At Wes, they went by the name “The Management” and during their four years both dabbled in an eclectic mix of genres like blues, hip-hop, prog rock, and even classic country. The music of the ’80s had a particular influence on their performances during college; as The Management, the two actually performed a 45-minute cover of the “Ghostbusters” song at a campus event.

Watch MGMT’s “Little Dark Age” below:

Alumni Celebrate a Festive Reunion, Commencement 2018

Alumni—especially those whose class years ended in 3 or 8—joined the families of graduating seniors of Wesleyan’s Class of 2018 for a campus-wide series of celebrations, WESeminars, thesis exhibitions, and festivities. Wesleyan’s Class of 1968, celebrating their 50th Reunion, began with a dinner on Thursday to gather the group and kick off the weekend. Other highlights included academic open houses, the annual parade of classes, the All-Campus Party featuring DJs Ben Resnick ’13 and Clément Guerner ’13, and Commencement speaker Anita Hill.

To see the Reunion photo gallery, click here.

To see the Commencement gallery, click here.

New Book by Sachs ’97 Inspires Readers to Push Thought Boundaries

Ready to step outside your comfort zone? We recently spoke to Jonah Sachs ’97, who explores what empowers some people to respond to change with creative breakthroughs while the rest of us spend our lives clinging to the safety of “the way it’s always been done,” in his new book, Unsafe Thinking: How to Be Nimble & Bold When You Need It Most (Da Capo Press, 2018). Filled with ideas and tips on everything from embracing risk and inspiring unsafe thinking in conservative business cultures to bouncing back from failure, as well as a mix of brainteasers, experiments, and puzzles, Unsafe Thinking is both inspirational and entertaining—and the perfect springboard to your next big idea. Sachs is the award-winning founder and a partner of Free Range Studios, a brand and innovation company that transforms companies through unsafe thinking.

Formerly Enslaved Woman Honored at 1820 Gravesite

Individuals honoring the gravesite and remembering Silva Storms, who was born in Africa and lived as an enslaved person in Middletown, include (left to right) Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta (far left), Professor Liza McAlister, chair of the Department of African American Studies (far right), and Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 with Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 (center). Congregants who traveled with Chief Ayanda (wearing white, left to right of center: Monica John, Shelby Olatutu Banks, Nkosi Fajumo Gray, and April Alake Silver) also gathered for the ceremony led by Clarke. Next to the Storms gravesite is that of Nancy Williams, a relative of Storms. (Photo by Wendy Black-Nasta P’07)

On May 9, a group of students, faculty, and Middletown friends joined Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 and Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 in a spiritual commemoration ceremony to honor a woman, Silva Storms, who died in 1820 and was buried in the cemetery on Vine Street, across from the Beman Triangle. Research indicates she had been born in Africa and was brought to Middletown as an enslaved person. The event was part of McDuffie-Thurmond’s research project for Black Middletown Lives, the service-learning course taught by Jesse Nasta ’07, visiting assistant professor of African American studies.

Nasta notes that McDuffie-Thurmond, who had been documenting the African American burials in the cemetery as part of his final project in the class, “completely took it upon himself to take that 10 steps beyond the assignment, to envision this ceremony. Jumoke is not just documenting the gravesites, but honoring the people who were enslaved here in Middletown.”

For his part, McDuffie-Thurmond remembers the first time Nasta took the class to the cemetery as a significant experience. “I’d never been to the section of the graveyard that was designated for Black Middletown residents, and Silva Storms’s gravesite—her tombstone stood almost alone in an open space—resonated with me. Professor Nasta told us it was the oldest tombstone in the African American section. I sat down there and listened to what was around me, what I felt, and I thought, I have to do something that tends to the spirit. We have a legacy of slavery in this land that constantly informs the space we live in—and it is unresolved. I wanted to do something that would resonate with those of us who live here now. It was a very intuitive decision.”

New Book by McIntyre ’84 Explores How We Arrived at a Post-Truth Era

Did you ever wonder how we arrived in a post-truth era, where “alternative facts” are substituted for actual facts and feelings are given more weight than evidence? In Post-Truth (MIT Press, 2018), Lee McIntyre ’84—a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an instructor in ethics at Harvard Extension School—explores the long history of the phenomenon . . . and what’s different this time around.

Post-Truth book cover

Q: Many people think that post-truth is a new idea, borne of Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but in your book, you explore the history behind the concept. Historically speaking, when did the idea first arise?

A: The word “post-truth” first started to be used in the 1990s, in a political story in a magazine. But the real interest here is that in 2016 the Oxford Dictionaries named post-truth their word of the year. This was due to a 2,000% increase in usage from 2015! So the word post-truth is of fairly recent origin. But the roots behind it, as I explore in my book, go back to science denial in the 1950s and cognitive bias that has been with us since the dawn of human civilization.

Q: As you note, the idea of a single objective truth has never been free from controversy. If this is true, can it be argued that post-truth is really just an alternative view of the truth? Can there be such a thing, in your opinion? 

A: An alternative view of truth—or the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth—is the bread and butter of epistemology. Philosophers debate the meaning of truth all the time: what is the appropriate concept of it, what its relationship is to knowledge, belief, certainty, etc. In the political context, though, things are different. Post-truth arose not from some philosophical quarrel, but from politicians who wanted to impose their reality on others. Here I draw a distinction with something like “spin doctoring” where everyone really knows that the person is lying and shading the truth, e.g., “my candidate obviously won the debate last night,” versus claiming that obviously false things are true, e.g., “the murder rate went up in the USA last year.” I see post-truth as the first step toward authoritarian rule.

Q: You argue that when we set forth a statement as fact with the intent to manipulate someone into believing something that we know is untrue, we have crossed the line from interpretation to deliberate falsification. Is this, for you, where post-truth begins?

A: Like lying, post-truth is intentional. It is a strategy. There are many different tactics that one might use in post-truth (lying, propaganda, selective exposure to information, etc.), but the intent is what matters. The analogy with lying is telling: A lie has to be made on purpose. One cannot accidentally lie. Similarly, post-truth is the deliberate attempt to see information through a political lens before it is shared with the public. That is when post-truth begins. When political expediency is more important than telling the truth about reality, we have crossed over into post-truth.

Q: We talk about political spin and how its intent is to influence others. But you see post-truth in its purest form to be when one thinks the audience’s reaction to the lie told actually changes the lie to truth. Can you give an example, from both sides of the political aisle, of this phenomenon of a lie “becoming” truth?

Nasta ’07 Presents Beman Triangle Research at CAAS

Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07, top left, and the students in his service-learning class, Black Middletown Lives, are focused on an area near campus called “The Beman Triangle,” documenting the lives of the African Americans who owned those homes in the pre-Civil War era. The students are: (front row, l. to r.) Rose Johnson-Brown ’18, Sammi Aibinder ’18, Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19; (second row, kneeling): Angel Martin ’19; (back row, l. to r.) Professor Nasta ’07, Catherine Wulff ’18, Belén Rodriguez ’19, Nicole Hayes ’19, Henry Prine ’18, Tedra James ’18. Not pictured: Tatiana Ettensberger ’18, Julia Natt ’19, Jessi Russell ’20, Jess Wachtler ’18.

 

“This is the history of right here,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07, speaking of his work with Black Middletown Lives, his service-learning class. “We venture deep, but no farther than two blocks.” He and his class of 13 students are doing firsthand archival research on individual projects, documenting the lives of those African Americans who lived in the area now called “The Beman Triangle,” after the most prominent black property owner in that five-acre patch of land bordered on one side by Knowles Avenue to the corner where Neon Deli now stands at Cross and Vine.

Jesse Nasta and the students of Black Middletown Lives gather on Cross Street in front of one of the five surviving houses from the pre-Civil War community now commonly called “The Beman Triangle.”

On Tuesday, April 17, Nasta spoke about this work at the Center for African American Studies, noting that almost a dozen years ago, he was standing in the same spot, presenting his honors thesis, “Their Own Guardians and Protectors: African American Community in Middletown, Connecticut, 1822–1860.” Nasta, a Middletown native, is delighted to return to Wesleyan and pursue this project that captured his scholarly interests at a young age.

In his talk, he provided historical context for the development of this area, recounted brief biographies of some of the residents of the area, and discussed the work of the class in light of the Beman Triangle today.