Campus News & Events

Poulos Studies Endangered Grass on Texas-Mexico Border

Pictured third from right, Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, gathers with the “Fescue Rescue” team at Maderas del Carmen Protected Area in Mexico. There, the scientists are studying Guadalupe fescue, an endangered grass species.

field sites in the Sierra del Carmens, Coahila Mexico

Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, works at a field site in the Sierra del Carmens, Coahuila Mexico. In September 2017, the U.S. government determined that Festuca ligulata needed protected species status and designated it a critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The rare Guadalupe fescue once thrived in abundance atop mountains spanning the Texas-Mexico border, however, the desert-growing perennial grass is now so endangered, it only flourishes in two locations on Earth.

The rapid population decline is leaving scientists puzzled.

“Developing an effective recovery plan is essential for protecting Guadalupe fescue, however, the lack of basic information about this species’ ecology is a serious barrier to that goal,” explained Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies. “Urgent action is needed to stabilize the two extant populations.”

This summer, under Poulos’s leadership, Wesleyan received a National Park Service Grant to study Festuca ligulata through the Southwest Borderlands Resource Protection Program. She joined a bi-national team of scientists known as “Fescue Rescue” to research the two isolated fescue populations in Texas’s Big Bend National Park and the Maderas del Carmen Protected Area in Coahuila, Mexico.

Said Poulos, a plant ecologist who has worked at desert borderland sites for more than a decade, “The Guadalupe fescue has become so endangered that this has become a significant national and international conservation concern.”

Backed by the NPS grant, the Fescue Rescue team will conduct onsite visits from October to mid-November 2019 during Guadalupe fescue seed maturation. Seeds will be collected during this time and transported to labs at Sul Ross State University in Texas and Universidad Autónoma Antonio Narro in Mexico. At these locations, scientists will germinate the seeds and grow their own fescue refugial populations for multiple research purposes.

“Together, they’ll provide a springboard for future plant population genetics, enrichment planting, and adaptive management research on both sides of the border,” Poulos said. “Such information is vital for elaborating site-specific management plans for the species on both U.S. and Mexican soils.”

They’ll study environmental variables, inventory seed production, identify key factors that promote reproductive viability, and ultimately establish refugial populations on both sides of the border.

Although virtually nothing is known about the environmental influences on the growth and reproduction of Guadalupe fescue, Poulos believes the fescue’s population decline is a result of multiple factors.

“Environmental factors that have likely negatively influenced the fescue populations include a recent shift to a hotter and drier climate, the genetic and demographic consequences of small population sizes and isolation, trampling by humans and pack animals, trail runoff, competition from invasive species, and fungal infection of seeds,” she said.

In addition, naturally occurring wildfires, which play an important role in rejuvenating ecosystems, are rare due to livestock grazing in the early 1900s and subsequent direct fire suppression continuing to the present. The remaining plants in the two disjunct populations are likely highly inbred and lack genetic diversity. This can threaten the capacity of populations to resist pathogens and parasites, adapt to changing environmental conditions, and colonize new habitats.

Poulos hopes to deliver her final reports to the National Park Service by summer 2020.

Brunet’s Dissertation Summarized in the Journal of Economic History

A summary of Assistant Professor of Economics Gillian Brunet’s dissertation, “Understanding the Effects of Fiscal Policy: Measurement, Mechanisms, and Lessons from History,” was published in the June issue of the Journal of Economic History. She wrote the paper while pursuing her PhD in economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

The global recession of 2008 and the resulting fiscal stimulus packages in many countries have reignited academic interest in government spending multipliers. Despite a growing theoretical and empirical literature, there is little consensus on the impact of government spending on macroeconomic aggregates. Gillian Brunet’s dissertation makes significant contributions to this contested literature by focusing on the largest fiscal shock in modern American history—WWII. Besides providing novel estimates of the fiscal multiplier during the war period, her work also seeks to understand how the economic and institutional contexts affect this important statistic.

The dissertation also won the Economic History Association’s 2018 Allan Nevins Prize Competition.

Brunet’s research interests lie at the intersection of economic history, macroeconomics, and public economics. Her work uses microeconomic data to study macroeconomic questions, often in historical contexts. She is particularly interested in understanding the United States economy during and after World War II.

This fall, she is teaching Economics of Alexander Hamilton’s America and Macroeconomic Analysis.

Kuenzel’s Paper Examines the International Monetary Fund’s Forecast Accuracy

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, is the co-author of a new paper published in the July–August issue of International Journal of Forecasting titled “Forecasts in Times of Crises.”

In the paper, Kuenzel and his co-authors examine the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) forecast accuracy of 29 key macroeconomic variables for countries in times of economic crises. In general, forecasts of the IMF add substantial informational value as they outperform naive forecast approaches. However, the paper also documents that there is room for improvement: Two-thirds of the examined macroeconomic variables are forecast inefficiently, and six variables (growth of nominal GDP, public investment, private investment, the current account, net transfers, and government expenditures) exhibit significant forecast biases.

These forecast biases and inefficiencies are mostly driven by low-income countries, perhaps reflecting larger shocks and lower data quality. Most importantly, errors in private consumption growth forecasts are the main drivers of GDP growth forecast errors. The results can help to shed light on which macroeconomic variables require further attention by the IMF in designing future forecast models.

The paper is co-authored by Theo Eicher (University of Washington), Chris Papageorgiou (International Monetary Fund), and Charis Christofides (International Monetary Fund).

Kuenzel is also the author of a paper published in the August issue of the Review of International Economics titled “Do trade flows respond to nudges? Evidence from the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism.” In the paper, Kuenzel examines whether interactions between WTO members through the Trade Policy Review Mechanism, the WTO’s prime transparency institution, lead to subsequent changes in trade flows. This question is of particular interest, as relatively little is known about the economic effects of WTO members’ communications outside of official negotiations and dispute proceedings. Kuenzel’s analysis shows that trade policy concern submissions by WTO members are more likely to lead to positive trade responses when (i) the receiving country is less concerned about terms‐of‐trade losses, (ii) the submitter is more willing to engage in WTO disputes with the reviewed member to challenge controversial trade policies, and (iii) the submitting country challenges trade policies in the nonchemical manufacturing sector. However, nudges through the TPR process are not successful in raising agricultural trade.

Paper by Thomas-Franz ’20 Wins Economics Department Prize

A paper written by Kaitlyn Thomas-Franz ’20 was the recipient of the 2018–19 Lebergott-Lovell Prize for the best paper written for a course that uses empirical techniques to analyze an economic problem.

Thomas-Franz wrote the paper “The 1918 Influenza Epidemic and U.S. Female Labor Force Participation” while she was taking Macroeconomic Analysis during the spring 2019 semester. The class was taught by Gillian Brunet, assistant professor of economics.

Honorable mentions included Qiyuan Zheng ’20 for a paper titled “FPI in Emerging Markets: Does the Equity Home Bias Theory Extend?” and Dominic Oliver ’19 for a paper titled “The Determinants of Zoning Regulation.”

Zheng wrote the paper while taking Econometrics during the spring 2019 semester. The class was taught by Anthony Keats, assistant professor of economics.

Oliver wrote his paper while taking Macroeconomic Policy during the spring 2019 semester. The class was taught by Gillian Brunet.

Stanley Lebergott and Michael Lovell, the prize’s namesakes, both held the title of Chester D. Hubbard Professor of Economics and Social Science.

Faculty nominated five papers for the prize.

The committee consisted of Keats, Karl David Boulware, and Abigail Hornstein.

Wesleyan Welcomes 781 Students on Arrival Day (with video and photo gallery)


On Aug. 28, 781 members of the Class of 2023—along with their families—flocked to campus for Arrival Day. Hauling armfuls of personal belongings and comforts from home, students settled into their new home-away-from-home amid fond (and a few teary) farewells.

President Michael Roth ’78 provided a personal welcome, helping carry students’ belongings into residence halls and offering warm greetings to the new members of the Wesleyan family. Athletic teams also helped carry the load, hoisting plastic tubs of cold-weather clothing and draped bedding over their shoulders.

Clark Hall volunteers had organized their sidewalk space, chalking it into squares labeled with room numbers to keep belongings all in one place. Inside the new room, families helped their first-year students to settle in and brand-new roommates found common ground and made plans for their space. Wesleyan’s mascot, a bright red Cardinal, fluttered about to add to the spirit of the day.

A total of 13,358 individuals applied for a spot in the Class of 2023, the most in Wesleyan history. Of those, Wesleyan admitted 2,187 and 781 matriculated. An additional 52 transfer students enrolled this fall.

Below are some stats about the Class of 2023:

  • 45% men and 55% women
  • 52% attended public high schools
  • A record-breaking 18% are from outside the USA
  • 44% are students of color (including international)
  • 24% identify as Asian/Asian American
  • 14% are international students (view story)
  • 8% are the children of Wesleyan alumni
  • 15% are among the first generation in their family to attend a four-year college
  • 48% are receiving financial aid
  • 80% have already studied a foreign language
  • 84% graduated in the top 20% of their high school class
  • English, biology, economics, film, and psychology are the top projected majors (identical to the Class of 2021 and 2022).

Wesleyan in the News

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

Wesleyan in the News

1. Where We Live: “The Life and Legacy of American Composer Charles Ives”

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, is a guest on this show about the legacy of composer Charles Ives. Bruce is the only pianist who has ever played all of the Ives music for solo voice, in a project called the Ives Vocal Marathon, which took place at Wesleyan in 2009. He is also the co-editor of a new collection of Ives songs, a former member of the board of the Charles Ives Society, and the chair of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the society.

2. The New York Times: “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces'”

In this op-ed, President Michael Roth argues that while “safe spaces” can be taken too far on college campuses, the much-maligned concept actually “underlies the university’s primary obligations” to its students. He advocates for creating “safe enough spaces,” which “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect that enables students to learn and grow—to be open to ideas and perspectives so that the differences they encounter are educative.” Roth further explores this topic and many others in his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College CampusesHe was interviewed recently about the book on several radio shows, including The Jim Bohannon Show, The Brian Lehrer Show, WGBH On Campus Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio, among others, and published op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Atlantic.

Wesleyan Welcomes Alumni, Parent to the Board of Trustees

Five Wesleyan alumni and one parent were recently elected to the Board of Trustees.

The board is the governing body of the University and responsible for ensuring that the University fulfills its mission, sustains its values, and appropriately balances its obligations to current and future generations. The board establishes long-term strategic policy and direction; approves the University’s budget and major financial expenditures, program initiatives, and construction projects; oversees the University’s financial affairs; stewards the University’s endowment and other capital resources; and appoints and supervises the president of the University.

The board is composed of up to 33 trustees, a diverse group of leaders in their respective fields who are united by a deep affection for and commitment to the institution.

The new members include:

Adam Bird

Adam Bird

Adam C. Bird ’87, P’19, ’22 is a senior partner with McKinsey & Company and the global leader of the Consumer Tech & Media practice, advising top management of the most disruptive (and disrupted) companies. A board member of the Paley Center for Media, he is past vice chair of the board of the Munich International School, and was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. At Wesleyan, he was a College of Social Studies major, a student representative to the Board of Trustees, and graduated with honors. He is also the father of Matthew ’19 and Sophie ’22.

A Right to Bear Arms? Coedited by Tucker Explores History of Gun Debate

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is coeditor of a new book, A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment, published Aug. 20 by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

This collection of essays offers a glimpse into how and why historical arguments have been marshaled on both sides of today’s debate over the Second Amendment. It includes writings by leading historians on firearms and the common law (including Saul Cornell, Kevin Sweeney, Joyce Malcolm, Priya Satia, Patrick Charles, Lois Schwoerer, Randolph Roth, and others) and—for the first time in one place—by the lawyers who have served as leading historical consultants in litigation for both sides (Mark Anthony Frassetto, counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety, and Stephen Halbrook, legal counsel for the National Rifle Association).

Taken together, these essays offer both general readers and specialists a valuable study of how history itself has become a contested site within the wider national legal debate about firearms. It fills a major gap in public historical writing about firearms and the law, a field characterized by strong polarities and in which scholarly exchanges among people with different perspectives on the history of firearms are relatively rare.

Board of Trustees Promotes 7 Faculty

On July 1, the Wesleyan Board of Trustees awarded tenure and promotions to seven faculty members.

The board conferred tenure with promotion to Ilesanmi Adeboye, associate professor of mathematics; Logan Dancey, associate professor of government; Meredith Hughes, associate professor of astronomy; and Stéphanie Ponsavady, associate professor of French. They join seven other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, three faculty members are being promoted: Hilary Barth, professor of psychology; Robert Conn, professor of Spanish; and Sanford Shieh, professor of philosophy. They join one other faculty member who was promoted earlier this spring.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Ilesanmi Adeboye
Adeboye’s research lies at the intersection of topology and geometry, and is motivated by the foundational question: To what extent does the shape of a mathematical object specify the ways to measure it? He focuses on concepts of area and volume in non-Euclidean geometries, in particular hyperbolic geometry and projective geometry. In addition to his published articles, he has given 20 invited talks in the United States and internationally. His most recent publication is “The Area of Convex Projective Surfaces and Fock-Goncharov Coordinates” in Journal of Topology and Analysis (2018). He teaches a wide variety of courses, including Multivariable Calculus, Fundamentals of Analysis, Complex Analysis, Differential Equations, Differential Forms, and Topology.

President Roth Authors New Book on ‘Safe Enough Spaces’

Safe SpacesPresident Michael Roth ’78 is the author of a new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses, published Aug. 20 by Yale University Press.

In the book, Roth takes a pragmatic and empathetic approach to the challenges facing higher education. He offers important historical, sociological, and economic context, as well as firsthand observations from his decades as a higher ed administrator, to debates over free speech, political correctness, safe spaces, affirmative action, and inclusion. As the book’s title suggests, he envisions a higher education space that is “safe enough” for students to openly explore new ideas and perspectives—even those that are unpopular or cause discomfort—and where no idea is protected from reasoned challenge.

Wesleyan Introduces New Cardinal

On Aug. 15, Wesleyan unveiled a new Cardinal—a modern and bold bird that looks to our future while paying tribute to our past.

The new Cardinal is being introduced in connection with the University’s core messaging project, which has been rolled out over the past year. It is part of an overall updated look and feel for Wesleyan Athletics, which captures the recent historic success of the program, and for the university as a whole. University Communications worked in close partnership with the coaching staff in designing the new Cardinal, and took input from faculty, staff, alumni, and students throughout the project.

“The previous Cardinal was developed in the early 2000s, long before digital and social media became dominant forms of communication. That mark was challenging to use in the digital realm, where vibrant and flexible graphics thrive,” explained Marketing Director Deb Katz.

Undergraduates Share Summer Research

poster session

Ben Sullivan ’20 presents his poster titled “Tracking New York Times Coverage of Every Senator First Elected in the 1990s” during the Summer Program for Research in the Sciences Poster Session on July 25. His advisor is Logan Dancey, associate professor of government.

The Summe Program for Research in the Sciences culminated with a research poster session in the lobby of Exley Science Center, with more than 100 students participating.

The program, held May 29 to July 26, was open to frosh, sophomores and juniors currently enrolled at Wesleyan. Wesleyan science faculty members served as mentors for student research in their laboratories. In addition to the closing poster session, the students participated in weekly seminars and workshops, a symposium, and various social events. After the poster session, students displayed their posters in the hallways outside the introductory biology laboratories.