Campus News & Events

Researchers Helping Army Identify Creativity in Leaders

Cynthia Matthew, visiting scholar in psychology, and Steven Stemler, assistant professor of psychology, are developing tools which may identify creative and effective leaders.
Posted 08/07/07
The U.S. Army is looking for a few creative leaders, and two Wesleyan researches are helping in the search.

Steven Stemler, assistant professor of psychology, and Cynthia Matthew, visiting scholar in psychology, are creating a basic psychological research tool that will help the Army Research Institute (ARI) to identify individuals who possess “mental flexibility,” a trait which Army officials believe is important to more creative and effective leadership.

“It might seem odd that an organization that is so inherently and purposely rigid in its structure would value creativity,” Matthew says. “But the circumstances leaders often find themselves in require a high degree of mental flexibility. “

Stemler adds, “In truth, some of the most creative people in the world have worked within the context of some well-defined constraints.” Stemler points to great athletes, such as Michael Jordan, who must adhere to rules of the game, entrepreneurs who must conform to the limits of their start-up capital and the law, and even many artists from past centuries who were forced to work within constraints set by patrons or the medium.

But it’s just not enough to be creative, at least not for the needs of the Army or those of most organizations with well-defined structures and hierarchies. According to Stemler and Matthew, for creativity to manifest itself in a real-world performance, the individual must also have mental flexibility, a personality open to experience, and strong motivation.

“Mental flexibility is the ability to respond to change with novel and useful strategies,” Matthew says. “Creativity and adaptability certainly figure into this, as well as being able to take abstract ideas and transform them into practical solutions.”

Stemler and Matthew have designed a study that measures mental flexibility within the context of individuals’ pattern recognition ability. The intent is to provide the Army with possible predictor of the ability to think flexibly and creatively.

“A previous ARI study showed that there are strong, consistent associations between individuals with strong pattern recognition abilities and strong mental flexibility,” Matthew says. “This study is designed to provide methods for reliably identifying pattern recognition ability in both abstract tasks as well as more practical social situations.”

“Some people are good at pattern recognition, but are not flexible or creative in finding new solutions,” Stemler says. “Others do well at the mental flexibility part but are not great at pattern recognition. We want to find out if we can identify those who excel at both.”

Another aspect of the study that links pattern recognition directly to leadership are measures designed to look at these abilities within the context of social networking skills, which has potential implications for leader development.

“If a person comes up with an innovative solution and wants to implement it in a strict hierarchical structure like the military, he or she will have to be able to identify who can help them do this within the informal networks that exist in all organizations, both above and below them in the chain of command,” Matthew says. “Otherwise, executing the solution will be difficult, if not impossible.”

Stemler and Matthew are being supported by grant of $104,797 for the 1-year study by the ARI. The researchers are being aided by Max Wu ’08, and Ellen Dinsmore ‘08, who are helping to develop some tests and instruments for the study.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that much of basic psychological research done in the U.S. since the end of World War II has been initiated and funded by the Army Research Institute,” Matthew says. “They really are responsible for some tremendous, ground-breaking work.”

Since this is basic research Stemler and Matthew do not need to test Army officers for the study. Instead, undergraduate volunteers from several participating New England colleges and universities will be recruited this fall. Stemler and Matthew will survey between 250 and 300 participants, paying them $30 for a single 30-hour testing session. There will also be classroom-level participation and include professors performing assessments.

Undergraduate institutions and students who are interested in participating in the study may contact Stemler at or Matthew at

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations. Photo by Olivia Drake.

Hughes Fellows Present Summer Research

Neuroscience and Behavior major Jeff Walker ’08 speaks about his research titled “Does inhibition lead to greater spike timing precision?” during the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences Poster Session Aug. 3. Walker’s faculty mentor is Gloster Aaron, assistant professor biology, neuroscience and behavior.
Posted 08/07/07
In the United States, approximately 80,000 adolescents try cigarettes for the first time each day. Psychology major Michael Raymond ’08 was curious to know why.

As a fellow in the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences, Raymond had the opportunity to identify predictors of nicotine dependence onset in adolescents. He spent his summer working with faculty mentor Lisa Dierker, associate professor of psychology, on nicotine dependence research. On Aug. 3, he had the opportunity to present his findings during the Summer Research Poster Session.

Raymond was one of 65 summer Hughes Fellows and other summer research undergraduates to share his work to faculty, graduate students, fellow undergraduates and other visitors. The posters were on display inside the Exley Science Center lobby.

“The Poster Session is always a nice opportunity for the Wesleyan community and public to get a sense of the spirit and accomplishments of our undergraduates’ research experiences throughout the summer,” says Michael Weir, director of the Wesleyan Hughes Program.

Chemistry major Allison Isaacs ’09 (pictured above) spent her summer conducting research on a project titled “Exploring the Mechanism of the Feist-Benary Reaction” with Michael Calter, associate professor of chemistry. Products of this type of reaction include a class of compounds which are common among pharmaceutical drugs, and hold much promise in the future of medical treatment. Chemistry major Max Loewinger ’08 (pictured at right) also worked with Calter on a pharmaceutical-related project titled “Asymmetric Synthesis of Substituted, Unsaturated, Aryl-N-Ocyisoxazolidines.”

Biology majors Evan O’Loughlin ‘08 (pictured at right) and Kepa Eizaguirre-Borreson ’08 presented their poster titled, “Mapping Gene Expression of the Scapula in the Chick Embryo.” The students worked with faculty mentor Ann Burke, associate professor of biology, on their experiment, which involved a study of a chick’s development of a lateral plate.

Other projects included a study on the synthesis on Glycinol by Joshua Porter ‘08; analyzing bacterial diversity by Andrew Burger ‘09; the usability of an ecotype simulation program by William Warner ‘08; and biodiversity in Middletown, Conn., by Nick Field ’09 to name a few.

Prior to the poster session, Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, delivered a public lecture titled “Through the Looking Glass of Ecological Analysis.” In addition, prospective undergraduate applicants and area high school teachers were offered laboratory tours.

Hughes Fellows are supported by a Hughes grant, awarded to encourage participation and interest in the life sciences by undergraduates. The grant supports summer research by a large number of Wesleyan undergraduates; in the summer of 2006, 48 students were supported, some in conjunction with other funding sources. The Fellowship includes a stipend and participation in Hughes activities.

For more information on the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences Summer Research Program go to :

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

New Apprenticeship Program Trains Students to be Mentors

As part of the new Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC)-sponsored apprenticeship program, Max Wu ’08 worked with Steve Stemler, assistant professor of psychology and Cynthia Matthew, visiting assistant professor of psychology, on a project titled “The Concept of Responsibility Within Organizational Structures.”
Posted 08/07/07
Students had the opportunity to attend daily classes, workshops and conduct research with Wesleyan faculty this summer as part of the new Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC) apprenticeship program.

The 10 undergraduate students enrolled in the program took classes in the morning, usually taught by Manolis Kaparakis, director of the QAC, or by another Wesleyan faculty member. In the afternoons, the students worked as teaching assistants for faculty.

“Students were able to develop a proficiency in statistics and research methods by taking part in the apprenticeship program,” says Don Moon, dean of the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs. “We expect that the program will be of real benefit to our students, both in enhancing their understanding of quantitative methods and in giving them skills that are much in demand in all walks of life.”

The projects tackled a wide range of topics. For example, math and economics major Hajin “Angela” Lee ’09 (pictured above) worked with Wendy Rayack, associate professor of economics, on a project titled “Welfare Reform and Wages in the Retail Sector.”

Madalina Ursu ’09 (pictured at left) worked with Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, on the topic “Creating New Irish Stock Market Indices, 1869-1929.” And Max Wu ’08 worked with Steve Stemler, assistant professor of psychology and Cynthia Matthew, visiting assistant professor of psychology, on a project titled “The Concept of Responsibility Within Organizational Structures.”

All student apprentices were financially supported, either by a QAC stipend, a faculty member’s grant, or university scholarships. Moon expects that some of the students who participated this year will work as QAC tutors during the 2007-08 academic year.

“We also hope that faculty will be able to hire some of these trained students as research assistants, thus both advancing the faculty member’s work and enabling them to work more effectively and giving the students excellent experience,” Moon says.

The Apprenticeship Program concluded July 27 with a Poster Session, where students presented a report of their work in progress. Several of the students will continue similar research next year.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor. Photos by David Pesci, director of Media Relations.

Campus Center Events Planned for Grand Opening

A formal dedication of the Suzanne Lemberg Usdan University Center will take place in the courtyard at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7.
Posted 08/07/07
For those of us on campus, there is no mistaking that construction is nearing completion on the Suzanne Lemberg Usdan University Center.

As is the nature of a project of this scope, the building is continuing at a rapid pace in this final month in order to complete the building for new students’ arrival on August 28. Leading up to arrival day, quite a bit of detail work is being completed. Over the next two weeks, several offices including the Usdan Center staff, University Events and Scheduling, Student Activities and Leadership Development, Wesleyan Station, the Box Office, the Wesleyn Student Association, the Cardinal Technology Center (formerly the Computer Store), the University Store (Broad Street Bookstore annex), and Wesleyan Dining by Bon Appetit will be making the move to their new spaces in Usdan.

Wyllys paving will be completed on or around August 15. Site work will continue around the building into September including tree and grass planting

The Taste of the Usdan Marketplace will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. August 31. With new students enjoying a picnic on the Center for the Arts green, staff and faculty are invited to visit  Usdan for lunch in the Marketplace. Show your faculty/staff ID and receive a free boutique beverage with lunch.

Join the staff from the offices in the Suzanne Lemberg Usdan University Center for the Grand Opening Celebration for from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7. There will be information tables and raffles for students to celebrate the official opening of the Usdan University Center. Music performances will be held in the courtyard on the main level.

The formal dedication of the Suzanne Lemberg Usdan University Center will take place in the courtyard at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7. The Wesleyan community is welcome to participate in this dedication.

Wesleyan Station Transitional Window Hours will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 6-17 at the Davenport Campus Center. August 9-17, services available will be limited to stamp sales and UPS and FedEx shipping. During the week of August 20, all Wesleyan Station operations will be located at the university Center. Window hours will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

By Rick Culliton, dean of campus programs. File photo.

Women Scientists Gather, Write at Retreat

Posted 08/07/ 07
Last year, Suzanne O’Connell, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, attended a meeting with scientists from around the world. Out of the 40 participants, she was the only female.

“This was 2006, not 1973, and with an organization that had had a pretty good track record for involving women,” she recalls. “It’s amazing to me that I was the only woman.”

It is this type of disparity that inspired O’Connell, pictured at left, to undertake an initiative designed to retain more women in the geosciences. With support from a recent National Science Foundation award, O’Connell co-created Geoscience Academics in the Northeast (GAIN), a program specifically for women geoscientists located in the Northeast.

From July 29 to Aug. 3, 18 women from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, New Jersey and even Illinois, gathered for the first GAIN writing retreat near Boston, which offered camaraderie and a focused environment for writing. The women were offered professional writing guidance from Anne Greene, director of writing programs at Wesleyan. They also shared feedback and left with a paper or grant proposal ready for submission.

“Our goal is to help women from all academic levels take part in a community that stresses professional development in the geosciences,” O’Connell explains. “Through GAIN, we hope to increase the retention of women in geosciences programs here in New England, and eventually spread throughout the country.”

GAIN, online at is a result of the project “Building a Community of Women Geoscience Leaders,” a project developed by O’Connell and Mary Anne Holmes, research associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The entire project is funded by the NSF’s three-year ADVANCE Partnerships for Adaptation, Implementation and Dissemination award of $488,367.

According to the National Science Foundation, women continue to be significantly underrepresented in almost all science and engineering fields, constituting only approximately 25 percent of the science and engineering workforce at large, and less than 21 percent of science and engineering faculty in four-year colleges and universities. Women from minority groups underrepresented in science and engineering constitute only about 2 percent of science and engineering faculty in four-year colleges and universities.

O’Connell says recruitment of women in the sciences, and retention of women in the sciences are the two largest problems causing the low female numbers. Stereotypes, such as “women are not good in math” are still common, even in this day of age, she says. She mentions Lawrence Summers, who served as president of Harvard University from 2001-06, who caused uproar with women academics when he said innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

“Girls, even at a young age, are still feeling that they don’t belong in the sciences, and they carry these ideas, these prejudices, with them from middle school into high school and then into college,” O’Connell explains. “It’s a very hard thing to overcome, so we are not able to recruit as many women into the sciences.”

This is called the “leaky pipe” syndrome, where fewer and fewer women are sticking with an educational path in the sciences.

The women who do become scientists face biological challenges. After receiving a bachelor’s, then master’s and Ph.D and moving into an academic position, they are pressured into being awarded tenure, a period of six or seven years that can “be the hardest years of your life,” O’Connell says.

“So by the time a woman receives tenure she is in her mid-thirties.” O’Connell says. “Professionally this might be an excellent time to start having a family, but not biologically.”

O’Connell and Holmes, both members of the Association for Women Geoscientists, will implement additional writing retreats and professional development workshops to provide women necessary skills to reach their full potential as academic and scientific leaders. These workshops will address strategies to increase department diversity, while providing a productive environment for all faculty.

O’Connell speaks more about problems recruiting women to the sciences in this National Public Broadcasting production at:

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

All-American Ellen Davis Leaves Behind Exceptional Track Record

Posted 07/11/ 07
All-American track and cross country runner Ellen Davis graduated in May, but more honors just caught up to her.

Davis, pictured in the lead at right, was honored by the College Sports Information Directors Association of America (CoSIDA) in June as she was named a CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine third-team Academic All-American after gaining first-team District I laurels in cross-country/track.

The 10 first-team picks from each of the eight districts (80 total athletes voted upon by all the Sports Information Directors (SIDs) in their respective district) appeared on the national ballot with three squads of 15 named Academic All-Americans after review by a national committee of SIDs. Cross Country/Track is one of seven distinct athletic areas that has an Academic All-America team chosen. Football, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball and men’s and women’s at-large are the other six areas.

An individual must have a GPA in excess of 3.20 to qualify for an Academic All-America award as well as be tremendously accomplished in a sport. Davis was just that with her long list of major athletic accolades.

Davis’ running career includes a 2007 NCAA Division III title in the indoor 5k event, a ninth-place showing among 279 runners for 2006 All-America laurels in cross country, and a New England Open title in the outdoor 10k with a trip to the NCAAs in the spring of 2007.

She was a three-time indoor track All-American capped by her first-place finish in 2007 and a two-time cross-country All-American while also competing in the NCAA outdoor track championships twice during her career. She had the fastest time in the country in the 5k outdoors this spring but chose not to compete in the event at the NCAA Championships May 26 in order to attend her graduation at Wesleyan May 27, where she received her degree in women’s studies.

Davis placed 10th in the 10k outdoors at Nationals. She set three indoor track team records in 2006-07 with best-ever times in the 3k, one-mile and 5k, and two outdoor marks with standards in the 5k and 10k this spring.

She leaves Wesleyan as the university’s second Academic All-American in the last two years.

Davis is spending her summer in North Carolina while looking for a position that will prepare her for a career in archival science and art history.

“Ideally I’d like something for a year or two, like an internship in a museum library, before going back for a master’s degree in archival science and art history,” Davis says.

As for her future running career, Davis has no specific long-term plans.

“I’m not planning any marathons,” she says, “but after taking a little time off from running recently I think I’ll start putting in the miles again just to stay in shape. But I expect the ‘runner’ in me will come out and I’ll start putting pressure on myself to perform. I’m sure there will be a road race or two in my future.”

By Brian Katten, sports information director. Photo courtesy of

Medieval Studies Faculty Curates Exhibit on Italian Renaissance Man

Marcello Simonetta, assistant professor of medieval studies, romance languages and literatures, is the curator of a recent exhibit “Federico da Montefeltro and His Library,” in New York through September. Pictured in Simonetta’s hand, and below, are portraits of the Italian Duke da Montefeltro.
Posted 07/11/ 07
In 1475, the fully-armored Italian Duke of Urbino posed for a self-portrait in the ductal library with his son at his side. This famous oil painting, pictured at right, containing a 500-year-old mystery, is the centerpiece of a current exhibit, curated by Marcello Simonetta, assistant professor of medieval studies, romance languages and literatures.

Titled, “Federico da Montefeltro and His Library,” the show is on display through Sept. 30 at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, N.Y. Simonetta has studied Duke da Montefeltro since writing his Ph.D. dissertation at Yale.

“I have always been fascinated by this great patron of the arts, who was also a successful mercenary captain,” Simonetta explains. “The combination of refined taste and ruthless politics is what makes him a sort of archetype of the Italian ‘Renaissance man’.”

In 1444 at the age of 22, Da Montefeltro, the illegitimate son of the count of Urbino, was able to inherit his father’s title. He made his reputation as a condottiere, or hired commander, and invested a lot of his money in building a fairy-tale palazzo in Urbino. Its “crowning glory” was the richest manuscript library of the Renaissance. His books highlight his intellectual curiosity on theology, geography, poetry, history and astrology. He became duke of Urbino in 1474, and died in 1482.

The show includes an imposing eagle-shaped lectern from the Museo Diocesano Albani in Urbino; a group of illuminated manuscripts from the Vatican Library; one horoscope from Yale University; and one of the duke’s printed books from Bryn Mawr.

But it is the painting, perhaps by Justus van Ghent or Pedro Berruguete (scholars cannot agree on the source), that stands out in the exhibit. For more than 500-years, historians have questioned what manuscript the duke is holding in the portrait. Simonetta recently solved the mystery, saying it is Pope Gregory the Great’s interpretation of Moralia in Job. This text contained more than a half million words explaining the Book of Job.

“It is a very influential theological work, and it fits perfectly the Duke’s self-fashioning mania as a man of action who also poses as a champion of the humanities,” Simonetta says.

The revealing clues for Simonetta were the features of the original binding and the size of the manuscript. Because bindings were unique to each book in those days, Simonetta was able to do some academic detective work to confirm his suspicions.

In addition to curating the exhibit, Simonetta is the co-author of the exhibit’s 195-page hardcover catalog. The catalogue is lavishly illustrated, containing some of the best images from the Montefeltro Library. There are essays and entries from other scholars, namely Delio Proverbio, who discovered that half of Federico’s Hebrew manuscripts were looted in 1472 from the private library of a Jewish merchant, and Martin Davies, who proved that Federico owned at least 50 printed books.

In 2005, Simonetta proposed the exhibit idea to Morgan Library Director Charlie Pierce. Once approved, Simonetta sought funds through the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture. He managed to borrow all the pieces needed for the exhibit.

Simonetta, a native of Rome, began teaching at Wesleyan in 2001. He will direct the Eastern College Consortium (for Wesleyan, Vassar College and Wellesley College) from Bologna, Italy in 2007-08.

Simonetta’s next book, The Montefeltro Conspiracy. A Renaissance Mystery Decoded, will be published by Doubleday in 2008. It narrates the thrilling story of the attempted killing of Lorenzo the Magnificent and, in a series of twists, it ends up in the Sistine Chapel, revealing some hittherto unknown “coded” meanings of Botticelli’s and Michelangelo’s frescoes.

The Morgan Library is located at 225 Madison Avenue in New York. The exhibition will take place in the Morgan’s new Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery, a perfect Renaissance cube designed by Renzo Piano. The walls will be covered with digital reproductions of the ducal studiolo, with its inlaid wood panels and portraits of popes, philosophers and poets. For more information go to:

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor. Photo by Bill Burkhart, university photographer.

Wesleyan Athletes Named NESCAC All-Academics

At left, cross country runners Owen Kiely ’06 and Ellen Davis ’07 were named NESCAC All-Academics. Kiley and Davis are among 64 athletes to receive the honor.
Posted 07/06/07
Sixty-four Wesleyan student-athletes from 28 sports were named 2005-06 New England Small College All-Academic (NESCAC) honorees.

To become an All-Academic, student-athletes must have met qualifying criteria, including holding at least junior status academically with one year’s residence on campus; being a starter or significant reserve on a varsity team; and maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.35 or higher.
Founded in 1971, the NESCAC is a group of 11 highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities that share a similar philosophy for intercollegiate athletics. The conference was created out of a concern for the direction of intercollegiate athletic programs, and remains committed to keeping a proper perspective on the role of sport in higher education.
Wesleyan’s All-Academics include:

Alex Battaglino ’07, Men’s Cross Country, Men’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Tom Bendon ’07, Men’s Lacrosse; Taylor Bentley ’06, Men’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Beth Bernstein ’06, Softball; Nate Boon ’06, Men’s Crew; Matt Burke ’07, Men’s Lacrosse; Pat Butsch ’06, Men’s Ice Hockey; Nate Byer ’06, Men’s Lacrosse; Ian Carbone ’06, Men’s Squash; Adam Chamberlain ’07, Men’s Swimming & Diving.

Also: Cara Chebuske ’06, Women’s Cross Country, Women’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Marri Coen ’07, Women’s Soccer; Natalie Cohen ’06, Women’s Soccer; Ellen Davis ’07, Women’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Liz Dee ’06, Field Hockey; Bob Diehl ’06, Men’s Lacrosse; Penny Essoyan ’07, Women’s Track & Field (indoor); Wes Fuhrman ’05, Men’s Cross Country and Track & Field (indoor); Molly Gaebe ’07, Softball ; Gaza Govati ’06, Men’s Soccer; Anda Greeney ’07, Men’s Cross Country Men’s Track & Field (outdoors).

Also: Ryan Hendrickson ’07, Men’s Ice Hockey; Caitlin Herlihy ’06, Women’s Soccer; Nick Holowka ’07, Men’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Sarah Hopkins ’06, Women’s Soccer; Nate Huddell ’07, Men’s Cross Country, Men’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Noah Isaacs ’06, Men’s Soccer; Eiza Jones ’07, Women’s Swimming & Diving; Ed Kenney ’07, Wrestling; Max Kates ’06, Men’s Tennis; Owen Kiely ’06, Men’s Cross Country, Men’s Track & Field (indoor); Megan Kretz ’07, Women’s Cross Country; Jesse Leavitt ’06, Baseball; Stephanie Lasby ’06, Women’s Swimming & Diving; Alex Loh ’06, Women’s Squash ; Kevin Lohela ’06, Men’s Soccer; David Lucier ’07, Football; Katherine Manchester ’07, Women’s Squash.

Also: Dan Mays ’06, Men’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Sarah Milburn ’07, Women’s Basketball; Rob Mitchell ’06, Men’s Swimming & Diving; Tory Molnar ’07, Women’s Volleyball; Becca Morrell ’06, Women’s Soccer; Amy Nebenhaus ’06, Women’s Crew; Lauren Ogden ’07, Women’s Soccer; Joe Pepe ’07, Football; Jack Rooney ’07, Men’s Tennis; Amy Rouse ’06, Field Hockey; Gabe Roxby ’06, Men’s Track & Field (indoors); Deirdre Salsich ’07, Women’s Crew; Tori Santoro ’07, Women’s Tennis; Omair Sarwar ’06, Men’s Squash; Dave Scardella ’07, Men’s Ice Hockey; Jimmy Shepherd ’07, Men’s Basketball; Laura Siegle ’06, Women’s Lacrosse.

Also: Hannah Stubbs ’06, Women’s Basketball; Erin Smith ’06, Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Caitlin Thompson ’06, Field Hockey; Hal Tift ’06, Golf; Dave Tutor ’06, Men’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Seth Warren ’05, Men’s Track & Field (indoor and outdoor); Eric Wdowiak ’06, Baseball; Rob Weinstock ’06, Football; Dana Wollman ’06, Women’s Crew.

Nitrogen Pollution May Be Affecting Long Island Sound’s Food Chain

Ellen Thomas, research professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences,  gathered evidence that Long Island Sound has been impacted by human activities.
Posted 07/11/ 07
A Wesleyan researcher has discovered that nitrogen pollution may have altered the food chain in Long Island Sound. This can threaten habitats that support large commercial and recreational fisheries.

Ellen Thomas, research professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has, together with Wesleyan undergraduate students, gathered evidence that Long Island Sound has been impacted by human activities, including effluents from wastewater treatment plants, waste disposal and urban and agricultural runoff. These effluents have given the Sound an overdose of nitrogen, causing a shift in the populations of microscopic algae which form the base of the food chain.

“This fundamental shift in the Sound’s menu of who eats what is likely to cause many familiar species’ populations to decrease,” she says.

Some of the results of her research were described in the May 2007 edition of Soundkeeper, a newsletter published by local residents who advocate the patrolling, investigating, intervening and raising public awareness of Long Island Sound and its watershed.

For 10,000 years, For 10,000 years, the single-celled organisms known as Elphidium excavatum fed off the Sound’s microscopic algae, or diatoms. Most crustaceans and fish, either directly or indirectly, thrived on diatoms, which are at the base of the Sound’s food chain. Many shellfish sieve diatoms from the waters, and the abundant small crustaceans called copepods thrive on diatoms. Without a large and healthy diatom population, the whole food chain suffers.

In order for diatoms to thrive, they need an environment of nitrogen and silica, which they use to form their delicate skeletons. However, human-generated sources of nitrogen have thrown the nitrogen-silica ratio out of balance.

“Humans add a lot of nitrogen to the Sound from polluted runoff and effluent from sewage treatment plants, but they do not add silica, so that ratio of nitrogen to silica becomes unfit for diatoms. As a result, other microscopic algae are out-competing diatoms for at least part of the growing season,” Thomas explains.

The decrease in E. excavatum has also led to a rise in the species Ammonia beccarii , which is not a good food source for many organisms, including the copepods and most shellfish. It is a good food source for jellyfish, however, and Thomas fears these animals could begin to dominate the western Long Island Sound waterway, where the A. beccarii population is exploding.

“The decreasing population of E. excavatum signifies a fundamental shift in the Sound’s food chain,” Thomas says. “Small diatom-feeding organisms form the base of a food chain that begins with diatoms and ends with animals we like to eat like lobster, scallops, and many fish.”

Thomas has researched foraminifera in Long Island Sound for more than 10 years, in cooperation with her husband Johan Varekamp, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science and chair of the Earth and Environmental Sciences. Many graduate and undergraduate Wesleyan students have participated in this research, some as Mellon and Hughes fellows. The research has been funded by Connecticut Sea Grant and the Long Island Sound Office of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Soundkeeper article is online at:

More information on Long Island Sound studies by Ellen Thomas and Johan Varekamp is online at:

By Terry Backer and Julia Hyman, Soundkeeper contributors, and Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Service Club Lends Helping Hands to Peruvian Community

Seven students, including Zoe Holder ’08 (top, center) and Consuelo Gonzales ’08 (center), traveled to Chuso, Peru this summer to volunteer at a local elementary school.
Posted 07/11/ 07
Zoe Holder ’08 returned from a Peruvian trip this summer with knowledge of a new culture, and well-callused hands from jabbing rocky ground with a pick-ax.

She and six other Wesleyan students volunteered to go to Chuso, Peru June 1-17 to help the small village with a community identified need. They are members of Wesleyan Without Borders, a group dedicated to doing volunteer work in developing countries, and keeping the Wesleyan community informed about work they do.

Their mission in Peru was to help construct a baño – or bathroom – for Chuso’s local elementary school. Under direction of a group construction leader and madres y padres de la comunidad – or mothers and fathers of the community – the students laboriously dug trenches, mixed mud and cement, hauled adobe bricks, axed through compacted soils and chopped down trees. The temperature averaged 90 degrees during the day.

“I’m not going to say that it wasn’t hard work,” Holder says. “It was completely overwhelming sometimes, but we kept up our enthusiasm and did whatever we could do to help. The locals were wonderful people and very appreciative of us being there.”

Wesleyan Without Borders teamed up with Pro World Peru, a service corps focused on developing relationships with communities. The students lived at the organization’s headquarters in Urubamba or “the land of plentiful mud and worms” and bussed into Chuso, a village located 10,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, for their service work.

The small school already had one bathroom, however it was unisex and overused. By pick-axing and shoveling through the dense earth, the students were able to excavate a 4-foot wide by 8-foot deep trench to place a septic system. Uphill from the trench, the students helped build an adobe structure, although they had to take a few lessons from the locals.

“It was so amazing to see how the Peruvians worked,” Holder says. “Building with adobe is so foreign to us, and it seems here in the modernized western world, we’re losing our manual labor skills. For Peruvians this comes so natural to them. It’s in their instinct.”

Holder was accompanied by Deanne Dworski-Riggs ’07, Felicia Appenteng ‘07, Consuelo Gonzales ’08, Kayla Bennett ‘10, Ashley Castro ‘10 and Kimberly Greenberg ’07. Greenberg is co-founder of Wesleyan Without Borders.

Dworski-Riggs, Appenteng and Gonzales had knowledge of the Spanish language and were able speak to the villagers in Spanish. They also helped translate for the others.

In addition to building the bathroom, Wesleyan Without Borders taught local children about proper health and hygiene using songs, plays and colorings. They spoke to the children’s parents about parasites and anemia, and suggested ways parents could protect their children’s health.

And for fun, the Wesleyan students played soccer with the children and introduced them to digital photography.

“We witnessed people living in poverty, but we also saw people living and laughing,” Holder explains. “In Chuso, it’s just a different existence and way of living from ours here in the U.S.”

During the last workday, the Peruvian women shared their own special recipe with the Wesleyan students by preparing a traditional guinea pig dish called cuy.

Greenberg says she will never forget the experience.

“The cultural exchange throughout our two-week stay was genuine and remarkable,” Greenberg says. “The kids loved to have their photos taken and watch us work as we dug our ditches; all of us eagerly waited for the soccer matches and rematches and our Peruvian leaders taught us customs and slang while we taught them about our hometowns in the U.S.”

Last year, a group of nine Wesleyan Without Borders members, including Greenberg, pictured at left, made their first development trip with ProWorld Mexico, where they helped construct clean-burning stoves in the village of Teotitlan in Oaxaca, Mexico. Next year, the group is hoping to tackle projects in Belize or Africa.

Holder, says the experience has opened her eyes to new parts of the world. Already fluent in French, Holder says there are pockets of Africa she could potentially work, but since the Peruvian experience, she’s exploring job options in Central and South American countries.

“I want to live life in a global sense by seeing and knowing everyone,” Holder says. “I want to become a citizen of the world. Peru was just one more step towards this, and I cannot wait to participate in next year’s experience.”

In the fall, Wesleyan Without Borders will present a slideshow on their service in Peru.

Wesleyan Without Borders was supported by several Wesleyan academic departments, Broad Street Books and several Middletown businesses. The group Wesleyan Without Borders is already fund-raising for next year’s trip. To make a donation or to acquire more information, e-mail Zoe Holder at

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor. Photos contributed by Zoe Holder.

Textbook Coordinator Chris Summers Dies

Posted 07/11/ 07
Chris Summers, textbook coordinator at Broad Street Books, passed away unexpectedly on Friday, July 6. He was a resident of Middletown.

Chris joined the team at Broad Street Books in January 2006. He was an enormous asset to our store. He was extremely diligent and detail-oriented, and he thrived on the ability to help both students and faculty with their needs. For his co-workers at the store, this is a tremendous blow personally. Everyone who interacted with Chris was aware of his quick wit, intelligence and humanity.

Chris is survived by his mother, Helen Morris Summers, three brothers, a sister, and several nieces and nephews. Funeral services will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Biega Funeral Home, 3 Silver Street, Middletown. The family will greet relatives and friends at the Biega Funeral home on Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Chemistry Lab Has New Environmental Perspective

Andrea Roberts, visiting instructor of chemistry, has introduced “green” techniques into her organic chemistry laboratory sections. Students use fewer chemicals, producing less waste.
Posted 06/20/07
At first glance, Wesleyan’s Organic Chemistry Laboratory doesn’t appear much different to the naked eye. But a closer look shows that virtually everything in the lab has changed.

“We’re going green,” says Andrea Roberts, visiting instructor of chemistry and Ph.D candidate. “We’re promoting sustainability and teaching the leaders of tomorrow better ways to do chemistry.”

Roberts started teaching the organic chemistry lab in Spring 2004, using a routine syllabus. The class had nine weeks of typical organic reaction labs and one, three-week final project.

“The Chemistry Department had been teaching the same organic chemistry curriculum for years,” Roberts says. “Some of the organic reactions students were doing were the same ones I did as an undergraduate. Although they were tried and true, they were becoming outdated. Very few industries nowadays are performing chemical reactions the way we were teaching them, and our experiments were producing a tremendous amount of chemical waste.”

In Spring 2007, Roberts made changes to the curriculum that allowed her to teach the same material using “greener” methods. This meant minimizing materials – chemicals, solvents and testing equipment; reusing or recycling materials in the lab; replacing harmful mineral acids and organic solvents with less toxic oxidants like peroxide and alcohols as solvents ultimately minimizing waste.

She began with the lab titled Introduction to Chromatography. For this task, students needed to separate a mixture of two compounds, fluorene and fluorenone.

Students previously used a gravity-based technique called column chromatography to separate and purify the chemical compounds. This slow method required .5 grams of fluorene and fluorenone to pass through a tube, or column, of 10 grams of silica gel. About 200mL of hexane was used to separate the compounds.

Roberts replaced this old-fashioned method with flash chromatography, a rapid method that pumps solvent through a cartridge, leading to quicker separations with less chemical waste. She replaced the fluorene and fluorenone with drops of water-soluble food coloring and used only .75 grams of silica, which later is recycled. Only 10mL of isopropyl alcohol is used, rather than hexane.

Roberts is able to recycle used silica gel in-house. As a result, no solid waste is generated in this experiment and only 10mL of alcohol is output as liquid waste.

Experiments with organic chemistry, a branch of chemistry that focuses on the properties and reactions of carbon-containing compounds, have the potential to be bad for the environment, explains Bill Nelligan, associate director of Environmental Health and Safety. By going green, Nelligan estimates the lab has reduced its solid and liquid waste by 50 percent each.

According to EPA guidelines, waste must be documented and discarded properly. These chemicals are sent to EPA-permitted Treatment Storage and Disposal Facilities for disposal or to be used as fuel in energy conversion plants.

“Wesleyan owns all chemicals, from the time they are brought into the university, to the time they are used, and from the time they are recycled or end up in a hazardous waste facility or landfill,” Nelligan explains. “Chemicals are a cradle to grave responsibility.”

Roberts began the quest to go green in Summer 2006 when she met with Margaret Kerr, who received her inorganic chemistry Ph.D. from Wesleyan in 1998. Kerr is currently an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry at Worchester State College and an expert on green chemistry.

Kerr directed Roberts to the online database, Greener Education Materials for Chemists. This site features an interactive collection of chemistry education materials focused on green chemistry.

“I was able to find the same lessons using green chemistry and plug them into our curriculum,” Roberts says.

Organic Chemistry Laboratory is a required course for anyone majoring in chemistry or pre-medical, dental and veterinary studies. The updated, environmentally-friendly course, CHEM 258, has increased student enrollment 25 percent over the last few years. Roberts teaches six sections comprising no more than 20 students each.

By going “green,” Wesleyan is taking part in the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Program. Green Chemistry Program has built hundreds of collaborations with academia, industry, government agencies, scientific societies, trade organizations, national laboratories and research centers to promote the use of chemistry for pollution prevention through completely voluntary, non-regulatory partnerships.

Next fall, Roberts will co-teach the laboratory-based Integrated Chemistry course Chem 375 with Albert Fry, professor of chemistry. Roberts plans to introduce green chemistry concepts to the lab.

“If we just focus on being one university going green, in one state, in one country, we are doing our part,” Roberts says. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every university in every state did their part? Imagine the impact.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor