David Beveridge, pictured at right, the University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics and professor of chemistry studies molecular dynamics of biological molecules and systems with postdoctoral fellow Bethany Kormos and research associate Surjit Dixit.
Campus News & Events
by Olivia Drake •
Pictured left to right, front row: Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology; John Seamon, professor of psychology; Janice Naegele, associate professor of biology; John Dekker, candidate, department of neurobiology, Harvard Medical School; Megan Carey, postdoctoral fellow, neurobiology department, Harvard Medical School; Allan Berlind, professor of biology, emeritus; Joshua Gooley, postdoctoral fellow, Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; David Bodznick, professor of biology; Harry Sinnamon, professor of psychology; John Kirn, chair, neuroscience and behavior program and associate professor, biology; Back row: Sam Sober, postdoctoral fellow, Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, UCSF and Mauricio Delgado, assistant professor, department of psychology, Rutgers University.
| The Neuroscience and Behavior Symposium was held at Wesleyan University on Feb. 11.
Organized by John Kirn, associate professor of biology, neuroscience and behavior (NS&B) and Chair of Wesleyans Neuroscience & Behavior Program, the symposium was designed to allow current Wesleyan undergraduates to discuss the major and research with established alumni of the Neuroscience & Behavior Department. Nearly 60 people attended the symposium, which was followed by lunch and an informal panel discussion.
I think that current students like to hear first hand about the experiences of others who are a few steps further along in their career paths, says Kirn, who hoped to also attract to the symposium Wesleyan students who dont conduct research, and who have limited interactions with graduate students.
All of our current majors doing research interact with our own graduate students and I think this is a very important mentoring process – yet another reason why we are lucky to have a Ph.D. program, he says.
Kirn also says the conference was a great opportunity for current students to learn how the speakers structured their own educations at Wesleyan and to find out what their lives are like now.
Current Wesleyan students, like Emily Gallivan and Jessica Ghofrani, both Sophomore NS&B majors, were happy with the small, intimate symposium setting and found the presentations interesting.
Junior NS&B major Tarek Sami agrees.
I liked hearing about the history of the department and this was a great opportunity to meet alumni and current faculty in the department, he says.
One of the symposiums featured speakers was alumna Megan Carey 96, now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. Carey also received a masters from Wesleyan Universitys NS&B department in 1997. She presented a talk on her Ph.D, thesis which she earned from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), titled Visual instructive signals for motor learning.
Careys work suggests a mechanism for how sensory signals represented in specific brain areas can lead to changes in neuronal activities that trigger learned behaviors, such as riding a bike or playing tennis. Carey studied the repeated eye movements of monkeys in order to gather her information.
Another alumni, Sam Sober 98, discussed his Ph.D. dissertation research, titled Sensory Integration During Motor Planning.
Sober, who also received his Ph.D. from UCSF, is now a postdoctoral fellow at UCSFs Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience. He spoke about his Ph.D., which involved analyzing the movements that human subjects made when reaching towards targets in a virtual reality environment.
Sober used virtual reality to alter visual imagery, by shifting an image of the subjects arm away from its true location.
This led to people making reaching errors, explains Sober. We analyzed these errors and found that the brain is very adaptable in how it combines visual information with proprioceptive (the felt sense of posture) information.
Sober says that although his studies focused on healthy individuals, a basic understanding of how the brain integrates different sources of information could help us understand disorders resulting from strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
Sober, who earned a Luce Fellowship, took a year off after graduating from Wesleyan to study acupuncture in Korea. He told the audience that taking a year off between finishing undergraduate studies and beginning graduatestudies or medical school was a good way to stem potential burn out.
Other presentations included Entrainment of the Circadian Timing System, by Joshua Gooley 00; Reward-related processing in the human striatum, by Mauricio Delgado 97 and Single Channel Analysis of Mammalian HCN Gating, by John Dekker 98, 99.
These speakers, who once did research in our labs, are now doing excellent work and we wanted to recognize them for their achievements, says Kirn. Based on suggestions of some students, wed like to host something like this again with alumni who arent in academic positions with a theme like Just what can I do with this NS&B degree anyway?
|By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations|
by Olivia Drake •
Judith Brown, vice president for academic affairs and provost, will step down from her position June 30. She will spend a year on sabbatical, and return to Wesleyan as a professor of history in 2008.
Brown was recruited six years ago to help Wesleyan achieve its highest academic aspirations as a liberal arts university.
Judith brought extraordinary intelligence and commitment to what is surely one of the most difficult jobs in university administration, says President Doug Bennet. I speak for the trustees and all of us in thanking her for her leadership and celebrating her plan to return to scholarship here at Wesleyan.
Brown, who has not has a sabbatical since 1992, has worked in academic administration for 11 years. She made her announcement during a faculty meeting Feb. 14.
I am ready for a change and for a change of pace, she says. I would like to take a break, to resume some intellectual projects I have neglected, to explore new intellectual horizons, and above all, to take more time to be with and travel with my family, especially with my husband, Shannon, while we are still able to enjoy a healthy, energetic, and active life.
Bennet will appoint another faculty member as interim vice president for academic affairs and will actively consider nominations.
It is of the greatest importance that we sustain the momentum and direction to which Judith has contributed so much, and meet the objectives in the strategic plan, Bennet says.
by Olivia Drake •
| Richard W. Dick Couper died on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at a hospital in New Hartford, N.Y.
Couper served on the Wesleyan University Board of Trustees from 1972 through 1983 and was elected as a trustee emeritus following his retirement from the Board. He was one of the longest serving trustees of his alma mater, Hamilton College, where he was the sixth generation of his family to attend.
Couper served on the boards of more than 60 organizations throughout his life.
He was president emeritus of the New York Public Library, having served as president and chief executive officer from 1971 to 1981. Couper was also president emeritus of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
Couper is survived by his wife Patricia Pogue Couper, and three children, Frederick of West Hartford, Conn.; Thomas, of Los Angeles, Calif.; and Margaret Haskins, of Morrisville, Vt.; and four grandchildren.
Memorial gifts may be sent to the Trustees of Hamilton College, 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323, or the Presidents Office, The New York Public Library, 42nd and Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018.
A memorial minute will be presented in recognition of Coupers service on behalf of Wesleyan at the February 2006 Board Meeting.Photo courtesy of Hamilton College.
by Olivia Drake •
Laura Grabel, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science and professor of biology, is working with Connecticuts Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee on ways to save the state money on a research laboratory.
Grabel along with scientists from Yale University and the University of Connecticut, believe at least one core laboratory could be established in the state. The scientists told a panel overseeing Connecticut’s 10-year, $100 million stem cell research initiative that they are willing to collaborate and avoid repeating the same work and save money. They said they could share expensive equipment and conduct certain research with human embryonic cells that is not eligible for federal money and prohibited in facilities built using federal funds.
The Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee is in the beginning stages of determining how best to distribute the first chunk – $20 million – of the state’s $100 million investment. The committee hopes to award grants this summer, possibly as early as June 30.
by Olivia Drake •
|Stephen Devoto, associate professor of biology, neuroscience and behavior, studies vertebrate developmental patterns in zebrafish.|
| A tiny fish popular with aquarium enthusiasts is poised to make a big splash in our understanding of muscle development. The results could have implications on the comprehension and perhaps treatment of muscular dystrophy, certain types of heart disease and other serious muscle-based ailments.
These findings by Stephen Devoto, associate professor of associate professor of biology, neuroscience and behavior were recently published in the paper titled Generality of vertebrate developmental patterns: evidence for a dermomyotome in fish,” in the January issue of the scientific journal Evolution & Development.
Devotos research examined the musculature of the tiny zebrafish, an aquarium favorite indigenous to South Asian streams. What the researcher found was that although fish and human beings comprise widely different physical forms, their underlying muscular development is much more similar than scientists had previously believed.
This research validates the idea that understanding fish development will tell us how human muscle stem cells develop at the very beginning stages,” says Devoto, who has been studying zebrafish at Wesleyan since 1992. “At their very basic level, we found developmental similarities between all vertebrates are much more striking than previously documented.
In basic terms, Devotos work compared the cell layer that contributes to muscle formation in many different vertebrate species, including zebrafish, trout, skates and chickens, among others. He demonstrated that this cell layer in fish, know as the dermomyotome evolved prior to the last common ancestor of all vertebrates.
It was one of those ah-ha moments, admits Devoto, who has always been fascinated by how cells talk to one another, how they are created and how they morph. It was the kind of moment that is so rewarding for a scientist.
But such moments are rare and often require tremendous amounts of work in and out of the lab. In Devotos case, the journey actually took him to Europe.
While on sabbatical at Kings College in London during 2004, Devoto engaged in many lengthy talks with Simon Hughes who was Devoto’s host. Hughes, who provided Devoto with laboratory access during his stay in London, is also a fellow co-author, about chicken and frog muscle development.
Our conversations planted the initial seeds that maybe muscle in all vertebrates is formed the same way, Devoto says.
Their ideas were solidified after Devoto reviewed a cross section of trout embryos with Walter Stoiber, another co-author, at the University of Salzburg in Austria.
Surprisingly, these connections had not been demonstrated before, Devoto says.
After returning to Wesleyan in the summer of 2004, he threw himself into researching the early muscle cell development in as many fish species as he could find.
Katherine Wolfe, an Olin Library assistant in the Interlibrary Loan Department, helped Devoto obtain copies of obscure hand-drawings and research from the 1800 and 1900s. Often he had to do his own translations of the German and French citations.
I got so excited when I found out one of the journals was in I couldnt wait to analyze it, Devoto says. It turned out that some nineteenth century scientists doing comparative embryology suspected these similarities, but they did not have the ability to provide conclusive evidence back then.
After analyzing their findings, Devoto and co-authors began writing the paper in the fall of 2004.
Devoto and his team continues their research with zebrafish. The tiny fish are a transparent species that is easy to study and breed. Currently, about 5,000 of the fish reside in his laboratory.
One of Devotos ongoing projects examines their skeletal muscle signaling protein, named Hedgehog. He and his colleagues learned that, when the protein is intentionally blocked in zebrafish, muscle development is disrupted. With his new work demonstrating close similarities between fish and humans in muscle development, Devoto believes that it is very likely that Hedgehog signaling is required for muscle development in humans. Anomalies in this signaling may underlie some muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophy and certain types of heart disease.
Devoto and his undergraduate and graduate students are also trying to find out what happens next to the embryonic zebrafish muscle cells after they form.
Were now extending our thought process and asking ourselves where do the cells go from this point and what exactly does this mean?
|By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations|
by Olivia Drake •
Ferocious Beauty: Genome premiered Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 in the Center for the Arts Theater.
How we heal, age, procreate and eat may soon change because of genetic research happening right now. The world premiere of renowned choreographer Liz Lermans Ferocious Beauty: Genome explores this moment of revelation and questioning in an arresting theatrical work that combines movement, music, text and film.
The world premier of Ferocious Beauty: Genome took place Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, in the Center for the Arts Theater.
The piece is the result of an unprecedented partnership with scientists and ethicists to confront the promise and threat of a new biological age.
For the past three years, the CFA and Wesleyan faculty have partnered with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, led by Liz Lerman, to explore the ethical and social repercussions of genetic research. The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange is a professional company of dance artists that creates, performs, teaches, and engages people in making art.
Through relationships with Wesleyans science faculty and students, Wesleyan served as a laboratory for Lermans development of the piece. This collaboration reflects both the Dance Exchanges and Wesleyans emphasis on interdisciplinary learning, as the project has initiated an unprecedented dialogue between scientists and artists. The outcome will be represented through a plurality of viewpoints, mirroring a dialogue among multiple voicesartistic, scientific and scholarlyin their varied perspectives.
Wesleyan provided extensive information, assistance and feedback in helping Lerman to create the piece.
The piece took a conceptual turn several times because of the contributions from the scientists at Wesleyan, Lerman says. And, the fact that one of the scientists is a dancer made the leap between the two disciplines easier.
The partnership with Wesleyan has also resulted in the most comprehensive residency ever undertaken by a dance company at Wesleyan. Lerman joined Wesleyans dance faculty as a visiting assistant professor for fall 2005. Students in her class had the opportunity to explore scientific, ethical and social issues related to genetic research.
Liz Lerman, who received a MacArthur Genius Grant fellowship in 2002 for her visionary work, exposed Wesleyan students and faculty to the Dance Exchanges methods and interdisciplinary approach. The ultimate goal was to refine ways to teach science to non-scientists and to gain knowledge through embodied movement.
Wesleyan and the Flint Cultural Center in Flint, Mich. are the lead commissioners of Ferocious Beauty: Genome.
The show will soon tour major performing arts centers including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Krannert Center for Performing Arts at the University of Illinois.
For more information on the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange visit http://www.danceexchange.org/.
by Olivia Drake •
| As part of Wesleyan’s on-going efforts to provide staff education dedicated to diversity issues, the Office of Affirmative Action is sponsoring a workshop, “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Academic Workplace, on Feb. 9.
The workshop will be offered twice: at 9:30 a.m. in the Russell House, and at 1:30 p.m. in Woodhead Lounge. Each session meets for two hours and 15 minutes.
This workshop will provide frameworks for understanding sexual orientation and gender identity in a more integrated way and offer participants in-community perspectives on work-related issues, explains Michael Benn, interim director of Affirmative Action.
The workshop will be conducted by Dorothea Brauer, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning & Ally Services, Diversity & Equity at the University of Vermont.
Topics of discussion will include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights, same-sex marriages versus civil unions, benefits and family configurations.
Participants will have opportunities to work with language and terminology and become more culturally competent and confident that their workplace conversations are respectful and inclusive.
Wesleyans revised and expanded policy on discrimination and harassment can be found online at http://www.wesleyan.edu/affirm/policy_harassment.html.
Space is limited to 30 participants per workshop. For more information or to register e-mail Janice Watson at email@example.com or call 860-685-2006.
Pedro Noguera Challenges Racial Inequality in Schools
The Office of Affirmative Action and The Center for Faculty Career Development sponsored a discussion titled “Challenging Racial Inequality in Our Schools featuring Pedro Noguera on Feb. 1
Noguera, a professor specializing in urban sociology in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University, spoke on the ways schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment.
Noguera has served as an advisor and engaged in collaborative research with several large urban school districts throughout the United States. He has also done research on issues related to education and economic and social development in the Caribbean, Latin America and several other countries throughout the world.
by Olivia Drake •
| Editor’s Note: The following article is written by Douglas Bennet, president of Wesleyan University.
During the first week of January I represented Wesleyan at a two-day summit on international education hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. The summit brought together 120 college presidents to discuss concerns, opportunities, and initiatives related to study abroad for U.S. students and study in the U.S. for international students. Both President Bush and Mrs. Bush addressed the summit.
The summit gave me the chance to reflect on Wesleyans role in international education. I was reassured that we are doing well. Many of the initiatives proposed during the summit confirm that we are on track.
President Bush opened the summit by announcing a national strategic language initiative. Much of the media attention devoted to the summit focused on his call for $114-million to teach languages critical for national security to students from kindergarten through college. While the Presidents comments focused on security issues, colleges engage in international education for reasons that go far beyond war and security.
Secretary of Education Spellings remarks broadened the goals of language study as a way to prepare students to engage in all facets of global business, economic, research, as well as security issues. She pointed out that only 44 percent of U.S. high school students study any foreign language while most European and Asian countries require that all their students take a second language.
Wesleyan has been very strong in language and studies of cultures for a long time. Most students arrive here with a substantial background in at least one foreign language and are likely to study a new language while they are here. While only 8 percent of college students nationally take any foreign language courses, 60 percent of Wesleyan students enroll in at least one foreign language class. We do not formally require language study, but some of our language faculty have found Wesleyan students more interested and motivated because they are choosing to study a language instead of filling a language requirement. In addition to European languages, Wesleyan students are very interested in Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. We will consider where there are ways to connect the Wesleyan curriculum that the Presidents critical language initiative.
Slightly more than half of our students participate in study abroad programs compared with 2 percent of all U.S. college students. Of those, half participate in programs outside Western Europe considerably more than at our peer institutions. Having spent several years working on economic development issues, both here and abroad, I am convinced that many aspects of globalization are most clearly understood in these emerging countries.
Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes raised the issue of how to make it easier for science students find research opportunities abroad. Our science faculty regularly travel and collaborate internationally in their research, but its more difficult for our science students to participate in a semester abroad without disrupting their research. We will follow up on initiatives raised at the summit and look for opportunities to expand study abroad options for science majors.
When the President and Secretary Rice each mentioned finding a balance between security considerations and attracting international students to study in the U.S. they received loud applause. I hope the summit helped calibrate this balance. We must compete successfully for international scholars and students if the United States is to offer an education with a meaningful global perspective. As the President and others recognized, many current world leaders were educated in the United States.
Wesleyan will continue to recruit international students and faculty. Currently, 6 percent of our student body comes from abroad. This figure includes 88 Freeman Asian Scholars from 11 Southeast Asian countries who are at Wesleyan for a full four years. All of these students bring an international perspective to the campus. The Freeman Asian Scholars program is without precedent elsewhere and a truly unique asset for Wesleyan.
There will always be more to do as we prepare our students for a global society and our current strategic plan, Engaged with the World, sets ambitious goals for us. Still, I returned from the summit knowing that Wesleyans engagement with international issues is robust and ongoing.
by Olivia Drake •
|Steve Windsor, database administrator, suffers from repetitive strain injury and uses special ergonomic tools at work such as rubber-ball chair, a specially designed mouse, a headset and a touch-sensitive keyboard.|
| Working on a computer all day can become a real pain in the neck (and the back and forearms and hands). Fortunately, a new ergonomics Web site created by Information Technology Services has several suggestions to keep bodies in balance.
The site, http://www.wesleyan.edu/its/ergonomics/, offers advice on good working positions, stretches, workstation guidelines for health, an office ergonomics checklist and even the Occupational Safety & Health Administrations guidelines for proper video display viewing.
Ergonomics is the science that studies the relationship of humans to their working environment and seeks to improve working conditions and increase efficiency. Proper ergonomics can prevent repetitive strain injury, explains Steve Windsor, database administrator.
Repetitive strain injuries are a subtle affliction which may develop undetected for months or years before it is noticed by the user, Windsor says. Correspondingly, it may take the same amount of time for the user to completely heal.
Windsor knows about work-related physical stress first hand. Ten years ago, the then-corporate programmer noticed tightness in his neck and shoulders and pain in his arms and wrists. He tried to ignore the pain for several months, but by the time he saw a doctor and was prescribed physical therapy, it was too late. For six months, he was unable to type, and any forms of gripping jars, door handles, steering wheel and even shaking hands became too painful to bear. Windsor lost his job as a result.
In 1997, Windsor came to Wesleyan where they were very receptive and supportive of my condition, he explains. Windsor currently goes to physical therapy sessions in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs and nutritive supplements.
At work, he uses a rubber-ball chair to align his spine, a specially designed mouse, a headset that he can use to dictate text rather than type it, and a touch-sensitive keyboard that eliminates the need to push keys.
Several body-aligning illustrations are depicted on Wesleyans ergonomics Web site. The site suggests simple stretches, such as a head rotation, lateral neck stretch, finger flexor stretch, standing back bend and arm stretch.
Each stretch should be performed throughout the workday, explains Brandi Hood, senior project coordinator for Physical Plant and ergonomics expert. Hood makes formal assessment of Wesleyan employees workstations.
Windsor says when an employee is diagnosed with a repetitive strain injury a typical reaction is to throw ergonomic equipment at the problem. However, the employee’s posture and work habits are the most important issues to study for a correct diagnosis.
All the ergonomic equipment in the world will not affect positive change unless the user addresses postural and working habits, says Windsor.
When setting up a computer workstation, Hood suggests that employees should be aware of neutral body positioning. This is a comfortable working posture in which joins are naturally aligned. This reduced stress and strain on the muscles, tendons and skeletal system.
Proper posture and limb alignment include making sure your feet are flat on the floor, your butt is all the way back in the chair, your back is in contact with the back of the chair, and your arms are relaxed close to your sides to reduce the severe angles between your shoulder and elbow and your elbow and wrists, she says.
These postures are illustrated on the ergonomics site.
This year, Hood and Julia Hicks, associate director of Human Resources, are planning at least one ergonomics session for Wesleyan employees.
|By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor|
by Olivia Drake •
| Thanks to more than $920,000 in private donations, including one from a notable alumnus, Wesleyan will install a new synthetic turf field in hopes of having it ready for play this spring.
The field will be located on the grounds of the former Long Lane School and provide a competitive playing surface for Wesleyans varsity lacrosse and field hockey teams, as well as foul-weather practice space for other varsity sports including football and soccer. Baseball and softball teams will also use the field for pre-season practice in late February when Bacon Field House becomes overcrowded. The field will be available for selected club sports, intramural play, sport camps and some use by the local community, as well.
Wesleyan is installing the field in part to maintain a competitive edge with peer schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).
The sport of field hockey in particular has adopted synthetic turf as the surface of choice, says John Biddiscombe, Wesleyans director of athletics and chair of physical education. The synthetic turf provides a faster, more exciting game for participants and spectators. High schools throughout the country are moving field hockey games and practices from grass to synthetic surfaces and soon high school players will come to Wesleyan with an expectation to play on the artificial surface.
The same can be said for lacrosse.
More than 160 alumni and parents earmarked donations for the field, including one of Wesleyans more famous former lacrosse players, Bill Belichick, 75. Belichick is coach of the New England Patriots and father of Amanda, 07, who is a varsity lacrosse player.
The field will be composed of Polytan Megagrass 2025. The project is scheduled for completion by April of this year. Wesleyan is hoping raise an additional $300,000 to outfit the field with lights, bleachers, a scoreboard, protective netting and other amenities.
Several alumni, parents and friends of the university have been actively involved in helping to raise the funding for the field, including Moira Byer P’06, David Campbell ’75, P’10, Michael and Marilyn Dee P’06, Mike McKenna 73, Preston Smith ’64, P’06, Jim Walsh P’07 and Cole and Katherine Werble P’07.
|By David Pesci, director of Media Relations|
by Olivia Drake •
College of Social Studies majors Angela Larkan 06 and Lindsey Reynolds 04 raise funds and awareness for orphaned pre-schoolers in South Africa through their non-profit organization, Thembanathi. Larkan’s thesis at Wesleyan involved establishing a method of care for AIDS orphans using their school system. (Photos contributed by Maya Casagrande)
| Angela Larkan 06 was raised in an apartheid South African town knowing that she could have been born into a poor family just down the road. With an estimated one in three South African children expected to be orphans by the year 2010 due to the AIDS virus, Larkan always knew she wanted to make a difference in her native country.
When I look into the eyes of the orphans, they all seem to be telling me the same thing, says Larkan, who has family roots in South Africa reaching back to the 1800s. They show me that they matter as human beings; that they have energy, love and innocence to offer the world, and that they need someone to help them survive.
In 2003, Larkan took on the task of co-founding a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for children in South Africa. The organization, Thembanathi, means “hope with us” in Zulu. Social studies major Lindsay Reynolds 04 has worked on and off in South Africa for the last three years on HIV prevention projects and co-directs Thembanathi with Larkan.
According to the South African Department of Health, in 2004, South Africa had more HIV positive people than any other country in the world. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, known as the AIDS belt, 40.7 percent of women attending antenatal clinics had HIV/AIDS. Mothers have a one in three chance of passing the deadly disease onto their children.
Thembanathi partners with Holy Cross AIDS Hospice, a non-governmental organization which supports orphans of AIDS and other vulnerable children. Money raised by Thembanathi goes toward feeding programs, a summer camp, childrens educational fees, and transportation for children to and from the preschool, among other needs.
Larkans interest in the orphaned children of AIDS was intensified during her sophomore year at Wesleyan. She applied for the Davenport Study Grant, normally awarded to juniors doing thesis research, to go to South Africa and conduct research on the AIDS orphan crisis, and determine a strategy to best handle the dramatic increase of orphans expected by 2010.
I wanted to work on something that was real and more relevant to today’s world, she says.
Larkan received the grant, and for six weeks, she traveled around the city of KwaZulu-Natal, interviewing key players in orphan care and the AIDS pandemic. There, she worked with Reynolds, who received a similar grant her junior year to study in South Africa. That opportunity crystallized Reynolds’ interest in AIDS on an international level and expanded her interest to working with children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. Together, the women witnessed dozens of pre-school-aged children left alone to fend for themselves in areas where hunger, disease, and poverty were already part of daily life. They communicate with the children through an acquired toddler Zulu and hire a translator when conducting research.
Our time there was fateful because we left with a desire, drive, and persistence to do more than just write about the AIDS situation, Larkan explains. We knew that we had to do something, no matter how small, to help the children that we had seen.
Larkan, who spearheads Thembanathi’s fundraising efforts, has coordinated benefit concerts, bake sales, candy-grams, refreshment sales at athletic games and jewelry sales to raise money for the organization. Beaded AIDS pins, handmade by Zulu women, are the programs top seller. Thembanathi raised $14,000 in its first two years, and acquired a $33,000 grant from the Wellesley Rotarians and Rotary International to establish a water purification system at Holy Cross.
Last summer, support from President Doug Bennet and the Christopher Brodigan Fund afforded the Thembanathi directors to return to South Africa for two months. While there, Larkan conducted some follow-up research on her thesis, which involved establishing a method of care for AIDS orphans using the school system. In addition, she developed a proposal that would link at-risk children in orphanages and schools with non-governmental agencies and social workers.
Larkan and Reynolds are also building networks, and are trying to have their ideas discussed in academic public policy circles.
Richard Elphick, professor of history, supervised Larkans thesis.
I certainly encourage my students to do projects in public service, but Angela is doing extraordinary things on a number of different fronts, he says. Rather than studying AIDS prevention, Angela is working on the other end – how to deal with victims, or the tsunami of orphans. Shes very intellectually acute and practical, and its wonderful that shes out there raising money for her cause.
A good part of running Thembanathi is administrative work, so Larkan and Reynolds can work using remote devices. Reynolds is living in Chad, Africa for 2 1/2 months doing more research as part of the completion of her Master’s in International Public Health from Johns Hopkins. Larkan, who finished her studies at Wesleyan in December, is living in Colorado.
Some people don’t understand why I want to spend four hours a day working on something that doesn’t pay me, but they haven’t met the children I worked with, Larkan explains. They haven’t interviewed officials who sadly, slowly, tell you how they country is being ruined. It is the experience on the ground that keeps me going. Children are innocent and don’t deserve to be the victims of a crisis this large before they have even learned to read.
Larkan and Reynolds hope to run Thembanathi full-time in the future and set up AIDS testing clinics and pediatric antiretrovirals for those AIDS orphans that are positive.
Larkan credits her experience at Wesleyan with her present and future plans. Shes worked in the Office of Community Service where she ran a group called AIDS and Sexual Health Awareness, teaching HIV prevention in local high schools and raising awareness about local and global AIDS issues.
Classes in government, economics, history and philosophy at Wesleyan provided Larkan with a broad range of pertinent information, allowing her to use to use these tools innovatively to build a model for orphan care. But it was Wesleyan’s students, she says, that inspired her to jump at the problem and try to change it.
Wesleyan’s atmosphere is inspiring and makes you want to be active in creating change, she says. Most importantly, it makes you realize that you can be a part of that change.
For more information on Themabanathi visit http://www.thembanathi.org/.
|By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor|