Wesleyan University made a record-breaking contribution to this years Middlesex United Way annual community campaign.
Frank Kuan, director of community relations and volunteer community campaign chair, reported that Wesleyan raised $140,018 for the local United Way chapter, exceeding the campaign goal of $135,000. This is the most Wesleyan has ever raised for Middlesex United Way in the 60-plus years the university has been involved in the campaign.
Middlesex United Way supports critical human care services and county-wide projects that improve community conditions.
This goes to show that Wesleyan employees care about the community that they work in, and many of us live in, Kuan says. Raising a record amount is a pretty amazing feat, and its a result of everyones diligence and effort.
Wesleyan was among the top three contributors in the Middlesex United Way Campaign. Kevin Wilhelm, Middlesex United Way executive director said Wesleyan consistently ranks in the top 4 percent of all universities nationally with respect to average gift and percent. This year, Wesleyan represents 6.5 percent of Middlesex United Way’s total of $2,150,000.
Although it was a successful year in terms of dollars raised, the level of participation dropped, a development that has Kuan concerned. Last year Wesleyan had 62 percent of its employees participate; this year that number fell to 59 percent.
Every dollar really counts and it all adds up for what we want to do locally, Kuan says.
Despite the drop, seven departments did have 100 percent participation: the Center for Humanities, Classical Studies; Dean of the College Office; Financial Aid; Philosophy; Project to Increase Mastery of Mathematics and Science (PIMMS) and the Registrars Office.
The Leadership Circle, comprising 44 individuals and six vendors who pledged at least $1,000 a year, accounted for $71,050.86 or 50.7 percent of the total amount raised.
John Biddiscombe, director of athletics, chair of the department of physical education, Middlesex United Way Executive Committee 2002-04, and past president of the Middlesex United Way Board of Directors said the United Way campaign has emerged over the past ten years to the point where the employee contributions ranks first in Middlesex County.
Wesleyan has always provided strong support for the United Way, Biddiscombe says. However, now, not only does Wesleyan provide volunteers, but we also provide significant dollars to local people in need.
In Middlesex County, United Way provides ongoing funding for 35 programs and services including the Amazing Grace Food Pantry, Girl Scouts Connecticut Trail Council Inc., Boy Scouts Connecticut River Council, Inc., Literacy Volunteers of Greater Middletown, Middlesex Hospital Family Advocacy Program, Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater and YMCA of Northern Middlesex County.
In addition to United Ways core services, the organization is creating three new initiatives:
In 2003, United Way touched 26,809 people, or 62 percent of Middletowns population. Overall, it reached 53,750 people or 34 percent of all people in Middlesex County.
Middlesex United Way recognized Wesleyans contributions with three awards at its recent annual meeting: a Silver Award for Participation, a Special Award for Excellence in Leadership Giving, and an Employee Honor Roll award for Five Consecutive Years of Campaign Growth.
Joyce Jacobsen, professor of economics, and Mike Zebarth, director of PIMMS, will serve as co-chairs for the 2005-06 campaign.
For more information go to www.middlesexunitedway.org.
Campus News & Events
by Olivia Drake •
|Economics Professor John Bonin is the editor of “Journal of Comparative Economics.”|
| As John Bonin recalls a recent overseas trip, one scene in particular stands out.
“The tree-lined streets with boutiques sprinkled among retail giants like the Gap could have easily been in a European city,” says Bonin, the Chester D. Hubbard Professor of Economics and Social Science and editor of the “Journal of Comparative Economics.”
Perhaps the most remarkable part of this recollection is that the streets he describes weren’t in Europe or even the west. They were in Shanghai, China. The image is important because it illustrates how quickly China is growing economically.
And yet, when Bonin traveled to the nearby city of Wuxi, he encountered another image along the way that impressed him just as much.
“There were huts sitting in mud with peasants attempting to eke out an existence from farming or fishing in small ponds,” he says. “It was as if these people were from another time entirely.”
Much like the two extremes of China, Bonin studies extremes within the world of banking. His research focuses on financial sector reform and bank privatization — the successful transition of financial institutions away from the controlling hands of the government towards private control.
His travels and research have landed him in many far away countries, including China, Hungary, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland and Russia. Bonin’s love for far away countries developed during grade school after he wrote a paper about China’s Yangtze River. Ever since, it’s been this country that has captured Bonin’s attention the most.
“I’ve always had this romantic notion of China,” he says. “I guess you could say I came full circle.”
Bonin’s most recent visit to Shanghai last May stemmed from an invitation to speak at a conference on the governance reform of state-owned enterprises in China.
“When I lectured at Peking University in Beijing in 2001 to a room full of about 50 Chinese students, it was incredibly rewarding,” he says. “They were the most inquisitive, captivated audience I’ve ever had.”
Bonin is also asked several times a year to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with World Bank leaders who are eager to collaborate with economists and research groups. Some of his research has even been circulated as policy briefs in Washington for government officials and members of Congress.
In addition, he compiled a case study of a privatized Polish bank for a U.S. Treasury Department funded project about banking in Central Europe and Russia.
It can take years for emerging-market countries to develop efficient financial institutions, he explains.”My job is to supply them with background information based on the experiences of other countries,” he says.
For example, while in Beijing, Bonin met with an official from the banking supervision department of the People’s Bank of China. This person eventually became very interested in Hungary’s experiences with bank privatization.
One of Bonin’s newest project includes collaboration with assistant professor of economics Masami Imai. They are researching how stock prices of companies in Korea, including Daewoo and Hyundai, are affected by news of changes in their main bank’s ownership.
The study will shed light on the impact that foreign owners of domestic banks have on domestic lending, especially lending to long-standing large corporate clients.
Bonin enjoys the research, but enjoys his work with students even more. He recalls one former student, David Lipton, ’75 who went on to become the Undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury Department in the 1990’s.
“I was sitting across from Lipton one night over dinner and he looked at me and said ‘You’re the reason I’m an economist,'” Bonin says. “To hear that was one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career.”
Bonin will also travel to Paris in April to teach a master’s class on financial economics in transition countries at the Sorbonne.
“First hand experience compliments standard research sources,” Bonin says. “Experiencing other places and cultures allows me to bring the real world into the classroom and enliven the learning process.”
by Olivia Drake •
| On March 4, Tom Cornish ’05 was transported to a local hospital with symptoms consistent with meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Tom was infected with strain B of Neisseria meningitidis, a strain not protected against by any existing vaccine, though one is in development.
Based on this information, Tom had meningococcal meningitis, which is a type of bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis. Tom’s condition has improved significantly since being admitted to the hospital and he is making steady progress toward recovery.
Wesleyan’s Office of Health Education has compiled a page with information about this disease:
There are different strains of Neisseria meningitidis. Tom was infected with a strain not protected against by the vaccine mandated for Wesleyan undergraduates. The bacteria can be spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (such as through coughing or kissing). Fortunately, these bacteria are not as contagious as agents that cause the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been. A vaccine for strain B Neisseria meningitidis is in development.
Persons in the same household or who have had direct contact with a patient’s oral secretions would be considered at increased risk of acquiring the infection. Even though the risk of getting meningococcal disease is generally very low; as a precaution, close contacts are often advised to take an antibiotic, usually rifampin or ciprofloxacin. Even when that step is deemed necessary, it does not imply an increase in risk for the broader community.
The University Health Center has contacted and provided or arranged treatment for those identified as having close contact with Tom. Medical staff maintained a telephone hotline around the clock to answer questions from members of the community and to direct them to further medical consultation or treatment, as appropriate.
by Olivia Drake •
|Luke Snelling ’05, a DJ with WESU 88.1FM, speaks on air during his talk show March 3. The student-run station now broadcasts shows via the Internet.|
On March 14, Wesleyan’s student radio station, WESU 88.1 FM, introduced a new broadcast schedule that combines original programs by students and community members with program feeds from WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.
For the first time, WESU will begin to broadcast via the Internet, a move that should add listeners both on campus and among alumni and parents. In addition, WESU will begin to raise funds from its alumni, local underwriters, and its listeners.
Live streaming of the stations broadcasts can be heard here: http://www.wesufm.org/.
The format changes are intended to provide additional programming options, to enable the station to meet FCC broadcasting requirements when local programming is not available, and to add crucial financial support that can allow it to upgrade its operations and equipment, according to University Communications Director Justin Harmon, who serves as administrative liaison to the station.
Programs produced by students and community members will continue as the mainstay of the WESU lineup. An eclectic mix of ethnic and alternative music will remain the primary feature of the station’s original programming. In addition, WESU is initiating a program to produce public affairs shows about local issues as part of a plan to further serve the listening community and the educational mission of the University. Monday’s community-based show “Talk For Your Rights” (4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.) will serve as a model for such programming. Other talk shows, such as “The Audio MTO” on Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m., feature comedic and other live talent.
Student leaders at WESU and the Wesleyan administration have developed a weekday schedule that features National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” from 5 a.m. until 10 a.m., “The Diane Rehm Show” from 10 a.m. until noon, and “Talk of the Nation” from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. On weekends, the lineup will include NPR’s “Weekend Edition” and “Car Talk.”
Students have re-organized WESU’s board and operations to put programming and operating decisions firmly in the hands of students while at the same recognizing Wesleyan’s ownership of the license and broadcast equipment. Wesleyan will hire a general manager for the station who will be accountable to the board and will report through the University Communications Office. Ben Michael, a long-time station volunteer, will serve as consulting manager for the station pending a search for a full-time general manager. Wesleyan students and members of the community will continue to serve as on-air talent, producers and technicians.
“We have maintained WESU’s distinctive blend of music and community programming and added high-quality programs from NPR,” says WESU President and Station Manager Jesse Sommer ’05. “We intend to build our listener base on campus and in the greater Middletown community, and we hope that our alumni will tune in to our new online service. We are counting on the active support of all these audiences as we move forward with our campaign to revitalize the station.”
The station’s financial support will come from a variety of sources. The University will continue to subsidize the station by providing offices and utilities. The station will continue to depend on allocations of student activity fees through the Wesleyan Student Assembly. A new non-profit affinity group, the Friends of WESU, will provide fund-raising support and structural guidance.
WESU will receive a portion of the receipts generated by WSHU’s fund-raising staff from listeners to the NPR programs WESU carries. Wesleyan will cover the station’s remaining budget until these fund-raising sources can sustain the new cost associated with hiring the general manager. It is hoped that, in the third year, fund-raising will attain levels needed to begin investments in much needed production equipment and facilities.
The contract with WSHU runs for 18 months. It places no limits on the content or format of WESU’s original programming.
“WESU’s purpose is to provide Wesleyan students the opportunity to learn radio as a medium for culture and public service,” says Harmon. “Our goal is to keep the station strong and independent. We think this partnership of students and community members, alumni and broadcast professionals best serves this goal.”
New Faculty, Renovated Classrooms, Scholarships, Financial Aid all Outcomes of $281M Wesleyan Campaign
by Olivia Drake •
|Money from the Wesleyan Campaign helped to fund a variety of initiatives, including new facilities and refurbished facilities like this computer resource center in The Exley Science Center.|
by Olivia Drake •
|“Wesleyan University: In a New Light” is photographed by William Mercer, a 1964 alumnus. The book is for sale at Broad Street Books.|
| Wesleyan as it appears every day, Wesleyan as you remember it, and Wesleyan as you’ve never seen it before.
Those are the images and words that fill “Wesleyan University: In a New Light,” a new book produced by University Relations and the Office of Communications.
Rich with the colors, activities, and faces that populate the campus, the book features 150 high quality images taken during the 2003-2004 academic year by photographer William Mercer ’64. Mercer specializes in “on location photography” and images for specialty books. His images in this volume provide a fresh perspective to Wesleyan’s grand and familiar landmarks, as well as views on the smaller more intimate events that occur throughout the campus community during an academic year.
President Douglas Bennet ’59 wrote the book’s introductory essay while Joseph F. Siry, professor of art, contributed a piece on Wesleyan’s distinctive architecture. Alumni, faculty from the present and past, and current students also provided short, insightful, personal impressions and recollections about the campus and its people.
David Low, ’76, associate director of publications, was the book’s editor; Anne Bergen, director of development communications and stewardship was the project manager; Suzy Taraba ’77, the university archivist and head of special collections at Olin Library, served as archival consultant.
Copies of “Wesleyan University: In a New Light,” are available for $39.95 through Broad Street Books at 860-685-7323 or at www.wes.bkstr.com. Faculty and staff receive a 10 percent discount; departments receive 20 percent off.
by Olivia Drake •
Are traditional teaching methods keeping pace with the increasingly diverse population of college students nationwide? Or worse are college faculty shying away from balanced teaching or research on race and ethnicity issues altogether because of the incendiary nature of the topics?
These are just some of the issues that were discussed at a seminar titled Effective Teaching in Racially Diverse Classrooms, February 28 in the Admission Offices McKelvey Room.
The presenter, Franklin A. Tuitt, Ph.D., has done many seminars on the subject of race in the college classroom, as well as extensive research in the subject. This includes a recent stint as a Cabot Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Universitys Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning where he conducted a study on student evaluations on courses taught by black and white faculty. While at Harvard, Tuitt has also developed instructional resources for teaching effectively in racially diverse college classrooms. He also worked as director of residential life and housing at Wesleyan from 1991 to 1994.
“This program was a wonderful and timely opportunity for faculty to discuss important and complicated issues, says Judith Brown, Vice President for Academic Affairs. All of us have a lot to learn about this subject from conversations with each other and with experts in the field.
Tuitts presentation for Wesleyan faculty will focus on methods for addressing situations that can emerge in racially diverse classrooms, as well as discussing issues that arise when teaching race-related content. There will be opportunity for faculty in attendance to discuss strategies, techniques and case studies related to their own classroom experiences.
The presentation is the latest installment of the Race in the Classroom Series that is being offered this academic year by the Center for Faculty Career Development and the Office of Affirmative Action. Other presentations have included: Stereotype Threat, presented by Geoffrey Cohen assistant professor of psychology from Yale University and The History of Whiteness, presented by Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Princeton University.
The presentations have been well attended, although there is always room for more, says Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, professor of classical studies, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, and director of the Center for Faculty Career Development.
Wesleyan staff will also be attending mandatory specialized diversity training workshops in the coming weeks presented by representatives from the A World of Difference Institute. The training will be called A Campus of Difference and will focus on practical skills to challenge prejudice and discrimination and foster inter-group understanding.
|By David Pesci, Director of Media Relations|
by Olivia Drake •
|The Fauver Field Residence Complex, due to open in September, will house up to 269 students.|
| This September, when Wesleyan begins its new academic year, students will move into a new living facility: The Fauver Field Residence Complex. The residences will mark a new step in Wesleyan’s recent history; specifically, the university will be able to accommodate close to 100 percent of its students in university-owned housing.
The Fauver Field Residence Complex consists of two buildings that together will house up to 269 students including 165 frosh, which will allow virtually all frosh to live in proximity on Foss Hill. Modern apartments in the complex will house 104 upperclass students and will permit the university to sell the out-of-date In-Town apartment complex.
The design and location of the facilities is the product of a year-long planning process by Wesleyan students, faculty and administration and are part of the university’s long range facilities master plan. “We have been planning and looking forward to this for a while,” says Marcia Bromberg, Wesleyan’s vice president for Finance and Administration. “It provides the opportunity to strengthen the student community in our central campus while relieving the neighborhoods of the pressures associated with accommodating student housing.”
University administrators believe that this will improve student-community relations as well as create opportunities for more families in Middletown to rent or buy the homes that were formerly rented by Wesleyan students. The neighborhood close to the university has become very attractive for homeowners and the university has worked closely with area neighborhood associations to further this process.
“We see the new plan as a great way to be a better neighbor and strengthen the community on several levels,” Bromberg says. “It really is a win-win for everybody.”
For more information, please go to: http://www.wesleyan.edu/masterplan/fauver.html
by Olivia Drake •
|Jessica Pfund, ’05 and Phillip Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, observe one of Middletown’s few remaining agricultural sites.|
It started out with little more than an idea, some old aerial photos and a handmade map. Several months and a lot of hard work by three dedicated people later the result may provide a whole new way to evaluate and influence the look and growth of towns in Middlesex County for years to come.
Not bad considering it all started out as a question from an inquisitive undergraduate.
The undergraduate, earth and environmental sciences major Jessica T. Pfund `05, was a student Earth and Environmental Science 322: Introduction to GIS (Geographical Information Systems), in the spring of 2004. The classs instructor, Phillip Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, had brought in a guest speaker, Sandy Prisloe, a geospatial extension specialist from the University of Connecticuts Center for Land-use Education and Research (CLEAR).
Prisloes presentation included a discussion of how satellite data were being used to quantitatively measure changes in Connecticuts landscape and to infer the impacts of these changes on the quality of life and the environment.
Sandy mentioned that he had a map from the 1970s that showed the areas that were farmland at that time, says Resor. He also mentioned that, if someone was motivated to use data that was recently created by a the group at the University of Connecticut showing the land cover in 2002 and compare what was found to the data from 1970, it would be interesting to see how things had changed.
Pfund was intrigued, and she was looking for a possible research project.
Many of my classmates were doing studies that were more theoretical and scientific, she says. This seemed to have scientific and social implications for the local area that could have a relatively immediate impact.
After discussing the idea further with Resor, Pfund decided: this would be her project.
Aided by a $2,500 grant from the Middlesex County Community Foundation and additional support from the Mellon Foundation and The University of Connecticut, Jessica, who was responsible for the bulk of the data collection, got to work.
I dont think when I started I had an idea of exactly what I was getting into, Pfund says, now almost a year into the project. Its been very interesting and exciting, but its also been a lot of work.
Much of this was linked to the differences in how the information being examined was generated. The images from the 1970 study were based on a hand-made mylar map that was in turn based on aerial photographs of the county. The information this would be contracted with was generated by images derived from satellite images of the same area in 2002.
The images and data didnt match up, says Resor. The satellite images are way precisely located, but cant image anything smaller than 30 meters. By contrast, the 1970s map was generated by aerial photographs and on the ground surveys that could capture small details, but werent necessarily as well located. So we had to find ways to account for the differences.
There were some other challenges too. For instance, the old maps identified the land as: active agricultural, inactive agricultural or nonagricultural. GIS images provided more than a dozen different characterizations, including assessments of soil viability for agricultural use and disposition of wetlands.
Translating the GIS data also had some interpretive challenges that were produced because of how things have been done in the state over the years.
Because of the way small plots of land are often used in Connecticut, what LandSat (the satellite) may identify as a large lawn area may actually be an active or inactive cultivated field, Pfund says. This meant we had to visit some locations in person to verify exactly what the use was.
Currently there is still a substantial amount of data to crunch and quantify, but Resor and Pfund anticipate having the study done sometime in the spring. They will publish a report with Prisloe detailing their findings. There will be public presentations and discussions of the data at town meetings in Middlesex County. The towns can then use the data to better plan new housing and business construction.
A lot of towns in Middlesex County are proud of their rural atmosphere, Resor says. This information can help them maintain that atmosphere as they move forward with new developments.
However, the study has already generated a result that will be producing more benefits for the county. Resor received a service-learning grant from Wesleyan to expand his efforts in these types of studies. This spring, his students are working on similar projects for The Nature Conservancy, The Connecticut River Costal Conservation Commission, The Middlesex Land Trust and the Town of Portland.
Its been pretty interesting to do a scientific study that actually has social implications and affects local issues, says Pfund. People dont often think of scientists working that way. Its been a very rewarding project.
by Olivia Drake •
|A ribbon cutting on Jan. 5 marked the formal opening of the Green Street Arts Center (GSAC) L. to R. are: Middletown Mayor Domenique Thornton, GSAC Director Ricardo Morris, North End Action Team President Peggy Busari, GSAC Assistant Director Manny Rivera, Wesleyan University President Doug Bennet. The center is housed at the former St. Sebastian School at 51 Green Street in Middletown’s North End. More than 250 people attended the grand opening. (Photo by Lex Leifheit)|
|Children draw in one of the two visual art centers at GSAS. The facility also has a dance studio and a performance studio with 100 seat capacity. Pre-opening pilot classes have already drawn 3,000 participants. (Photo by Olivia Drake)|
|President Bennet speaks with guests as Ricardo Morris looks on. Funds for the school’s renovation were raised through a partnership involving Wesleyan, along with grants from the city, state and national level. Wesleyan also partnered with The North End Action Team, the Macdonough School, Church of the Holy Trinity, Community Health Center and other organizations. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)|
|The Kamau Trio performs urban jazz at the opening. Pictured left to right are George Blackman, Jr., saxophone; Lance “Kamau” James, djembe; and Kalim Zarif, keyboard. All three teach music classes at GSAC. (Photo by Olivia Drake)|
|Teens dance inside the GSAC dance studio after the grand opening ceremony. More than 50 students have already enrolled in the GSAC after-school programs. Wesleyan students also volunteer as academic tutors for the children. (Photo by Olivia Drake)|
|Mayor Thornton and Jennifer Aniskovich, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Arts, Tourism, Culture, History and Film, greet guests during the grand opening. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)|
|For more information or to receive a spring catalog call 860-685-7871 or visit http://www.greenstreetartscenter.org/.|
by Olivia Drake •
|Erhard Konerding, documents librarian, works inside the Olin Memorial Library, which was built in 1928.|
When Wesleyan’s Olin Memorial Library opened in 1928, the classically symmetrical structure fronted with six marble columns stood out as a bold yet elegant structure. Nearly 80 years later, the building is still turning heads.
On January 13, The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Greater Hartford awarded the library with The Office Building of the Year (TOBY) award in the historic building category. The TOBY award recognizes excellence in building management, operational efficiency, tenant retention, emergency planning and community impact. The Olin Library won in the “proper maintenance of the historical building,” category.
“It was built in 1928 and still has that old world charm,” said Pete Caniano, chairman of the TOBY award committee. “I could find myself getting lost in a great book in Olin all the time.”
Caniano, district manager for American Building Maintenance Janitorial Services of Danbury, Conn., provides janitorial services to Wesleyan and nominated the library for the award.
“I nominated Olin because I felt it had great architectural character and it has gone through some excellent architectural renovations throughout its history that add to its appeal,” he said. “Olin library is a wonderful landmark on campus.”
Caniano and members of the judging panel inspected the facility, grading it on physical attractiveness, cleanliness, mechanical functionality, aesthetics and standard building operation equipment and procedures. Each category had to receive a passing grade for the building to be considered for the award. Caniano said Wesleyan’s Physical Plant had a lot to do with the outcome of the judges’ findings.
“If the building had been simply attractive and architecturally marvelous but not maintained well and had antiquated maintenance systems, it would not have won,” he said.
Caniano noted many positive points while touring the library. The stacks, he said, are well organized; the building is kept in pristine condition; and the ambiance of the reading room “is exceptional.” He also favored the private alcoves used for student research and described the library’s staff as “very helpful.”
“The building is kept in pristine condition and is very practical for student use,” he said.
Olin Memorial Library was first opened as a memorial to Stephen Olin, Wesleyan’s president from 1842 to 1851, and his son Stephen Henry Olin, class of 1866, a Wesleyan trustee for 45 years and the university’s acting president in 1922 and 1923.
The original plans for the building were begun by Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, and after his death were completed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. It currently provides Wesleyan’s 2,730 students and 1,060 staff and faculty members with 1.5 million publications and a variety of electronic and archival services.
A major renovation and expansion of the building, completed in 1986, was designed by Perry, Dean, Rogers & Partners. It nearly doubled the space available in Olin for study areas and collections.
The 163-foot wide façade surmounted by a pediment and capped by a balustrade. Marble, exterior and interior, amounted for 20 percent of the final construction cost of $727,000.
Now that the library has won at a local level, it has an opportunity to advance to the regional level in each of the eight North American regions of BOMA International. Regional winners advance to the international level.
|By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor|
by Olivia Drake •
Ganesan Ravi Ravishanker, director of Technology Support Services and adjunct associate professor of chemistry, explains where his home countries were struck by the December 26 tsunami.
Millions of Americans watched as the Dec. 26 tsunami obliterated south Asia’s coastal belts. But for Ganesan “Ravi” Ravishanker, the event was far more personal.
Ravishanker, director of Technology Support Services and adjunct associate professor of chemistry, is a Sri Lanka native and attended college in southern India where the tidal waves battered both shorelines for a half-mile inland.
Those are both places where I have spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years and have vivid memories of, Ravishanker said. Most of my extended family members live in these two countries.
The tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Indonesia, killed more than 170,000 people as it crashed the shores of 10 countries around the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka and Indonesia received the hardest hits.
Ravishanker, who lost his parents as a young child, grew up with his aunt, uncle, sister and 11 cousins in the countrys capital, Colombo. Three of these cousins are raising families in Sri Lanka and the rest moved to southern India.
I was just getting back from vacation and I was still in a relaxing vacation mode, when they started flashing news about the tsunami damage on TV, he said. I immediately thought about my family. Many of them were living in area close to the coast.
Relatives in Tamil Nadu, India, immediately e-mailed Ravishanker in America and let him know they were OK. His relatives in Sri Lanka, however, were still unaccounted for. Although his relatives lived inland in Kandy, he feared they may be traveling on a train that was derailed by the tsunami.
All I could do is sit, watch and wait, he said.
Sri Lanka, a pear-shaped island four times larger than the state of Connecticut, is located 18 miles southeast of India. With no communications available to his homeland, he waited as the death toll climbed to 30,000. The missing count hovered at 5,600. More than 200,000 families were displaced by the earthquake-spawned waves.
The Sri Lanka that I remember, that I grew up in, was one of the most enjoyable places. It was surrounded by the ocean, there were beaches, a perfect climate and the people were very friendly. It was a great place, he said. It was like paradise.
Via Indian television channels, Ravishanker watched debris of fishermens wood shacks envelop the once pristine, palm-lined beaches. Disfigured bodies in all forms and shapes piled up near landmarks all recognizable to the Sri Lanka native.
It was heart-wrenching to watch, he said. I was thinking of my family, but also these poor children affected by this disaster. Whats so sad is that the first wave came in and pushed all these fish up on shore, and all the fishermen told their kids to come out and see and play with the fish. Little did they know that a bigger wave was coming to eat them all up.
On Dec. 30, Ravishanker finally heard from his Sri Lankan relatives. Everyone was alive. With his family all accounted for, Ravishanker immediately pursued ways to help the victims of the disaster.
Rescue efforts are somewhat hampered by an ongoing civil war in the country between the Sinhalese and Tamil Tigers. Pockets of the northern and eastern areas are heavily mined. A physical presence of rescue workers in these areas carries a certain amount of danger.
The Sri Lankan government has urged donor nations to donate $15.6 billion to rebuild tsunami-affected parts of the country, but Ravishanker was advised to hold off and carefully explore more long lasting avenues to help those affected. Hes considering funding an orphaned childs education for life. His brother-in-law, Shankar, is working with these orphaned children directly back in Chennai, India.
I take great pride in my brother-in-law for doing this, and I think the outpouring of local support is a great thing to see. People are setting aside their religious differences and caste barriers are vanishing, he said. I cant imagine people doing this 20 years ago. People are already setting up shops and makeshift schools. Recovery have been remarkable.
|By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor|