Campus News & Events

Wesleyan Team Honored for “Best Innovation” at 2017 DataFest

Students from six colleges and universities participated in DataFest March 29-April 2 at Wesleyan.

Students from six colleges and universities participated in DataFest March 29-April 2 at Wesleyan.

The Wesleyan team Data Baes took one of the top prizes for “Best Innovation” during DataFest, held March 31 to April 2 at Exley Science Center. Seventy-five students from six institutions participated in the annual analysis competition.

During DataFest, students are presented with a large, complex data set and work over the weekend to explore, analyze and present their findings. Teams of three to five students work together and compete against other teams from Wesleyan, Connecticut College, Yale University, Lafayette College, University of Connecticut and Trinity College.

Under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, the event is organized by the Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC).

At the end of DataFest, each team had five minutes to present their findings to the judges. The judging panel included data scientists, research analysts and a biostatistician

Royer Finds Climate Could Soon Hit a State Unseen in 50 Million Years

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

New climate research by Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, finds that current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and, if they continue on this trajectory “the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years” by mid-century, according to an article in Salon.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.

“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Royer’s paper was published April 4 in Nature Communications and widely covered in the mainstream press. The implications, writes Salon, “are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.”

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

 CO2 levels in the atmosphere have varied over millions of years. But fossil fuel use in the last 150 years has boosted levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) before industrialization to nearly 405 ppm in 2016, according to the researchers.

If people don’t halt rising CO2 levels and burn all available fossil fuels, CO2 levels could reach 2,000 ppm by the year 2250, the researchers said. CO2 and other gases act like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space. That’s known as the greenhouse effect, the researchers explained.

But the researchers note that CO2 levels are not the only factor in climate change; changes in the amount of incoming light also have an affect, and nuclear reactions in stars like the sun have made them brighter over time. Royer says this interplay is important:

“Up to now it’s been a puzzle as to why, despite the sun’s output having increased slowly over time, scant evidence exists for any similar long-term warming of the climate. Our finding of little change in the net climate forcing offers an explanation for why Earth’s climate has remained relatively stable, and within the bounds suitable for life all this time.”

Royer also is professor of environmental studies, professor of integrative sciences. See more coverage in Science Daily and International Business Times.

Former EPA Chief Headlines Campus Sustainability Conference

alliance-logo-300x233On March 31, Wesleyan hosted #BeTheChange, Connecticut’s annual Campus Sustainability Conference, featuring former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy as the keynote speaker. Organized by the Connecticut Alliance for Campus Sustainability, the theme of the day-long conference was “Engagement and Empowerment around Climate Change: Fostering Inspiration and Action at the Local Level.”

About 150 students, staff and faculty from the state’s public and private colleges attended the conference, which also included workshop sessions on climate and sustainability action; empowerment on campus; engaging in state policy and legislation; engaging in community and municipal action; and engaging at the grassroots level. Several community members, business representatives and government representatives also attended.

McCarthy was appointed EPA chief in 2013 by former President Barack Obama. One landmark of her four-year tenure occurred in 2015 when she signed the Clean Power Plan, setting the first national standards for reducing carbon emissions produced by power plants. Under McCarthy’s direction, the EPA also made strides in curbing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening chemical safety regulations, and protecting water resources.

Gottschalk Featured in CBS Special ‘Faith in America’

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, professor of science in society, was featured in a CBS special on March 28, “Faith in America: A History.” The program covered a history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in the U.S.

“The very understanding of who is acceptable in American society goes to the very heart of who Americans are, and who Americans can be,”said Gottschalk in his opening appearance. “So issues like excluding immigrants based on a religion test, which is against various laws in our country, not only threaten those who would like to come to the United States, but it threatens those who are within the United States”

“We find that folks like Thomas Jefferson and others were quite clear that there was going to be no discrimination whatsoever, and he very clearly stated that we need to be welcoming of Jews, gentiles, Gentoos, which is actually a word for Hindus, and Muslims. So just absolutely no interest whatsoever in any kind of delimiting notion of who can be American based on religion.”

Today, Muslims face the biggest threat from discrimination. Said Gottschalk, “This current president has capitalized on a nativist sentiment… As we saw in the 1920s, there’s concern about immigrants coming in, taking our jobs, and displacing our values and often not looking like us. So the nativism often has a racial premise as well as a religious premise.”

Gottschalk also is director of the Office of Faculty Career Development.

Smoklin Contributes to “Year of Russia” at KSU

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin

Participating in Kennesaw State University’s “Year of Russia” program, Assistant Professor of History Victoria Smoklin presented on the current state of US-Russia relations. KSU’s “Year of Russia” invites academics, artists and dignitaries “to promote a deeper appreciation for and understanding of Russia and its people.”

During her presentation Smoklin discussed ideological struggle over national identity in contemporary Russia. She noted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in this struggle. His strategic engagement with his country’s history he has led to an unprecedented gain approval ratings. In particular, she cited Putin’s construction of a 54 foot tall statue of the 10th century Slavic leader and proponent of Orthodox Christianity, Vladimir the Great.

Commenting on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Smoklin argued that Russia’s actions suggest not merely a desire to seize control of the area but rather to assert its claims. This increasing expansion is part of Putin’s desire to create “a spiritual geographic entity” that will replace the “narrative of liberal democracy” that inadequately supported Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

You can learn more about “Year of Russia” online here.

Wilkins, Alumni Author Paper on Consequences of Perceived Anti-Male Bias

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor of psychology, has studied perceptions of discrimination against whites and other groups who hold positions of relative advantage in society—such as heterosexuals and men—since she was a graduate student at the University of Washington. She became became interested in the topic of perceptions of bias against high status groups after hearing Glenn Beck call president Barack Obama racist. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Clara Wilkins

Men in the U.S. today increasingly believe themselves to be victims of gender discrimination, and there are a record number of recent lawsuits claiming anti-male bias. In a study published in March in Psychology of Men and MasculinityAssistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins and her co-authors assess the consequences of these perceptions of anti-male bias. Are men who perceive discrimination more likely to discriminate against women? How do beliefs about societal order affect men’s evaluations of men and women?

The article is co-authored by former post-doctoral fellow Joseph Wellman, now an assistant professor at California State University–San Bernardino, Erika Flavin ’14, and Juliana Manrique ’15, MA ’16.

In a blog post on the study, the authors write:

Traditionally men have had higher status than women in the U.S.; they have been better educated, more likely to be employed, and have tended to earn more than women with the same job and qualifications. People vary in the extent to which they believe that this particular ordering of society is fair and the way things should be. Some believe this type of inequality is legitimate, while others believe it should change. We expected that men who believed men should have higher status in society would be most upset about the thought that men now experience discrimination, and that they would react by favoring men over equally-qualified women. This effort would be a way to reestablish men’s perceived rightful place in society.

They conducted two studies to test this prediction. In the first, male participants read an article about increasing bias against men or another group, and then were asked to evaluate the résumé of a man or woman as part of an ostensibly unrelated study. The résumés were identical except for the name and gender. The researchers found that men who believe the social hierarchy is fair tended to give more negative evaluations of the female candidate relative to the male candidate after reading about bias against men. They also showed less desire to help the female candidate. The same effect wasn’t seen after male participants read about bias against an unrelated group. The researchers conclude that beliefs about the legitimacy of the hierarchy and perceptions of bias against men together seemed to disadvantage women.

In a second study, the researchers manipulated participants’ beliefs about society’s fairness by having them create sentences by unscrambling strings of randomly ordered words that suggested system legitimacy. For example, they created sentences like “effort leads to prosperity” – which makes people believe that hard work in society is rewarded. Or, they unscrambled other words to create neutral sentences unrelated to society. Unscrambling system-legitimizing sentences caused participates to believe the social structure is legitimate, and in turn, caused those primed to perceive discrimination against men to more negatively evaluate female targets. They also reported being less willing to help the female targets than male targets.

The researchers gave participants an opportunity to provide feedback on how to improve targets’ resumes. Those primed with beliefs that the social structure is legitimate reacted to perceiving bias against men by providing more constructive feedback to male targets than female targets. They write that these findings are striking, as the resumes were identical – only the names varied.

This research suggests that men who believe that men should be high-status in society react to perceiving bias against men by engaging in efforts to maintain men’s position of power. These individuals may be unaware that they favor their own group or disadvantage women; they may simply perceive that they are righting a perceived wrong. However, this explanation was not supported by other research results. When the researchers primed men to perceive discrimination against women, they did not react by favoring women over men. It seems as though they are uniquely concerned about maintaining their own group’s position in society, they write.

The researchers conclude that when high-status individuals perceive increasing bias against their group, those who endorse the legitimacy of the social hierarchy may perpetuate social disparities. Thus, if men increasingly perceive discrimination against their group, they may be more inclined to discriminate against women and provide other men with an extra boost. They recommend adopting hiring and evaluation processes that mask gender to prevent these potentially deleterious effects of perceiving bias against men.

Read the complete research article here.

Frosh Honored for First-Year Seminar Essays

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Five students from the Class of 2020 were honored for their First-Year Seminar essays during a ceremony March 28 in Downey House. The students include, from left, Daniel Atik ’20, Maya Bernstein-Schalet ’20, Gina Savoy ’20, Benjamin Glass ’20 and Sophie Dora Tulchin ’20. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

During her fall semester First-Year Seminars intensive writing course, Gina Savoy ’20 investigated the career of artist Vincent van Gogh and penned an essay titled “The Church: A Lifelong Obstacle for Vincent van Gogh.”

On March 28, Savoy’s essay took top prize at the Endeavor Foundation First-Year Seminar Essay Contest. She and four other first-year students received cash awards ranging from $250 to $75 and a book, selected by their course instructor. With support from The Endeavor Foundation of New York, Wesleyan was able to offer the offer inaugural awards ceremony and celebrate the success of 43 FYS in the fall, and 10 this spring.

First-Year Seminars are writing intensive courses that introduce students to a variety of topics ranging from Greek mythology to neuroscience. Faculty teaching these classes highlight the type of writing associated with their respective disciplines, and help students develop, compose, organize and revise their writing.

“All first-year students at Wesleyan are strong students, but even still, they arrive with a range of writing abilities,” said Meg Furniss Weisberg, visiting assistant professor of French, interim director of academic writing.

During the FYS program, faculty teach students the specifics of college-level academic writing: formulating an original, debatable claim; supporting that claim with textual and scholarly evidence; making analytical rather than simply observational arguments; and synthesizing one’s points into an effective conclusion. Faculty also expose students to scholarly and critical articles, as well as teach them about this new kind of reading, thinking and writing.

In addition, the structure of the courses, which favor multiple drafts and peer workshops as well as feedback from the instructor, fosters an environment of individual and collective progress, rather than of pure skill acquisition.

“The first year of a student’s time at Wesleyan should be a time of exploration, of expanding intellectual boundaries, and taking some intellectual risks,” Weisberg said.

Savoy, who was enrolled in the Arts and Art History course Van Gogh and the Myth of Genius, taught by Katherine Kuenzli, associate professor of art history, associate professor of German studies, focused her essay on van Gogh’s tumultuous relationship with religion, specifically the church, which is illustrated through his increasing incorporation of nature in his work throughout his nearly decade-long artistic career. “Although van Gogh had to find a new source to satisfy his unwavering desire for religious meaning in his life, his resentment towards the traditional church did not translate to abandoning the subject in his artwork,” Savoy said.

Her paper examines several of van Gogh’s works that feature a church motif and uses the painting The Church at Auvers, completed in the last few months of his life in 1890, to analyze his nearly two-decade long religious transformation. “The evolution of the church motif in his work supports the argument that nature provided van Gogh a sense of meaning and purpose the church never could,” Savoy said. “This reality is reflected in his complete substitution of Christianity for nature in his work in the last few years of his life.”

Other essay winners included:

At right, Melissa Katz, visiting assistant professor of romance languages and literatures, speaks about the book she chose for essay winner Daniel Atik '20. Several faculty attended the essay content award ceremony to applaud and speak about their students' essays.

At right, Melissa Katz, visiting assistant professor of romance languages and literatures, speaks about the book she chose for essay winner Daniel Atik ’20. Several faculty attended the essay contest award ceremony to applaud and speak about their student’s essay.

Daniel Atik ’20 took second place in a tie with his essay “Converted Bells: An Exploration of Religious Power Dynamics,” written in his College of Letters 120 course, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, Getting Along in the Medieval World. The class was taught by Melissa Katz, visiting assistant professor of Romance languages and literatures.

Maya Bernstein-Schalet ’20 also took second place with her essay, “Mocking the World in The Life of Symeon the Fool,” written in her College of Letters 150 course, Great Books UnBound. The class was taught by Tushar Irani, associate professor of letters, associate professor of philosophy.

Sophie Dora Tulchin ’20 took third place with her essay, “Subtleties of Subversion,” French in Translation 123 course, Love, Sex, and Marriage in Renaissance Europe. The class was taught by Michael Meere, assistant professor of French.

Benjamin Glass ’20 took honorable mention with his essay, “The Art of Stability. An Anatomical Explanation of a Mechanical Clock,” written in his Physics 162 course, It’s About Time. The class was taught by Lutz Hüwel, professor of physics.

During the ceremony, Ellen Nerenberg, dean of the Arts and Humanities and the Hollis Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, presented the the students with their awards, and Meg Furniss Weisberg presented the students with a a book chosen by their course instructor. Contest judges included Nerenberg, Weisberg and Wesleyan faculty Andrew Curran, Marc Eisner and Joyce Jacobsen.

Photos of the awards ceremony are below:

During her fall semester First-Year Seminars intensive writing course, Gina Savoy '20 investigated the in-depth career of influential artist Vincent van Gogh and penned an essay titled “The Church: A Lifelong Obstacle for Vincent van Gogh."

Gina Savoy ’20 won the top prize with her essay, “The Church: A Lifelong Obstacle for Vincent van Gogh.”

Daniel Atik '20 took second place in a tie with his essay “Converted Bells: An Exploration of Religious Power Dynamics," written in his College of Letters 120 course, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, Getting Along in the Medieval World. The class was taught by Melissa Katz, visiting assistant professor of romance languages and literatures.

Daniel Atik ’20 took second place with his essay “Converted Bells: An Exploration of Religious Power Dynamics.”

Maya Bernstein-Schalet '20 also took second place with her essay, “Mocking the World in The Life of Symeon the Fool,” written in his College of Letters 150 course, Great Books UnBound. The class was taught by Tushar Irani, assistant professor of letters, assistant professor of philosophy.

Maya Bernstein-Schalet ’20 took second place with her essay, “Mocking the World in The Life of Symeon the Fool.”

Sophia Dora Tulchin '20 took third place with her essay, “Subtleties of Subversion,” French in Translation 123 course, Love Sex, and Marriage in Renaissance Europe. The class was taught by Michael Meere, assistant professor of French.

Sophie Dora Tulchin ’20 took third place with her essay, “Subtleties of Subversion.”

Benjamin Glass '20 took honorable mention with his essay, “The Art of Stability. An Anatomical Explanation of a Mechanical Clock," written in his Physics 162 course, It’s About Time. The class was taught by Lutz Hüwel, professor of physics.

Benjamin Glass ’20 took honorable mention with his essay, “The Art of Stability. An Anatomical Explanation of a Mechanical Clock.”

Wesleyan Receives Mellon Grant for Pedagogical Innovation

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The Center for Pedagogical Innovation and Lifelong Learning (CPI) helps faculty use new technologies to benefit their teaching. Antonio Gonzalez, professor of Spanish and director of the Center for Global Studies, uses videoconferencing technology in his class to connect with students in Madrid.

Antonio Gonzalez, professor of Spanish and director of the Center for Global Studies, is comfortably seated in front of a semicircle of 11 students. He holds an iPad Pro that controls two large screens on the wall behind him and enables him to move effortlessly, seamlessly from Google Maps, to video clips, to text he can annotate on the iPad. All the while he converses in Spanish with his students about a movie that tells the story of a Moroccan woman repatriating the body of her brother after he died crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in a small boat.

In another class, Gonzalez and a colleague in Madrid co-teach with the help of high-quality videoconferencing technology. (See article.)

“You can’t believe what a success my trans-Atlantic classroom arrangement has become. It was as if the students in Spain were here with us,” says Gonzalez. In one class, students in Spain conversed with peers in Middletown about why certain homicides in Ciudad Juarez had not been classified as terrorism. “Talk about interculturalism!”

Technology is helping Gonzalez to teach differently and more effectively. And that’s one goal of the Center for Pedagogical Innovation and Lifelong Learning (CPI), which has been working with faculty members on new techniques and pedagogical strategies.

Now the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has given the CPI a major boost with a $750,000 grant to fund its activities for the next four and a half years.

Wesleyan Named Finalist In NACE Technology Excellence Award

careersbydesign_album-webWesleyan has been nominated and named as a finalist for the Technology Excellence Award presented by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Awards are presented to universities and employers for “excellence in the use of technology and/or various social media outlets.” Wesleyan earned this distinction for the Gordon Career Center’s premier podcast series, Careers By Design, which highlights the careers of some of Wesleyan’s most successful alumni.

Sharon Belden Castonguay, director of the Gordon Career Center and Rachel Munafo, assistant director of the Gordon Career Center, will present on the podcast series and represent Wesleyan at the NACE Professional Achievement Showcase in Las Vegas in June.

Speaking from a variety of different disciplines, the alumni featured in Careers By Design interviews offer advice on how they made the most of their Wesleyan education. Listeners have the opportunity to learn from a long list of various industry experts including Thomas Kail ’99, known for his work on the award winning musicals In The Heights and Hamilton; Pete Ganbarg ’88, the executive vice president and head of A&R for Atlantic Records; and Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz ’88, a public figure involved with women’s empowerment and public education, and an expert in women’s and integrative health.

More on the Careers By Design program, as well as the remaining alumni interviews, can be found online.

Faculty, Students, Alumni Attend the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Avi Stein ‘17.

A group of Wesleyan faculty, students and alumni attended the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodland, Texas March 20-24. The annual conference unites 2,000 international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology and astronomy to present their latest research in planetary science over the course of several days.

Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology Martha Gilmore coordinated Wesleyan’s group. While at the event, she presented her work on the oldest rocks on Venus and Mars gully analogues on Earth.

McKeeby MA ’17 and Tarnas ’16 (Photo by Martha Gilmore)

McKeeby MA ’17 and Tarnas ’16.

A number of her current graduate and undergraduate students attended and several also presented their work. Ben McKeeby MA ’17 discussed his work on Mars-analogue volcanic sites on Earth; Shaun Mahmood MA ’17 discussed his work on lunar water; and Avi Stein ’17 discussed his work on Venus sediments. All three of these students were supported by the NASA Connecticut Space Grant. Earth and Environmental Sciences graduate student Jordyn-Marie Dudley MA ’18 also attended the conference.

Professor Martha Gilmore and Golder MA ’13 (Photo by Martha Gilmore)

Professor Martha Gilmore and Golder MA ’13.

Numerous alumni made contributions at the conference including astronomy majors Bob Nelson MA ’69 and Jesse Tarnas ’16; earth and environmental sciences majors Tanya Harrison MA ’08, Nina Lanza MA ’06, Keenan Golder MA ’13 and James Dottin ’13.

Earth and environmental sciences and chemistry double major Peter Martin ’14 and physics major Ian Garrick-Bethell ’02 also contributed.

Brumberg ’17 Wins Princeton in Latin America Fellowship

Hilary Brumberg ’17 waters gypsy broccoli seedlings inside a new greenhouse at Long Lane Organic Farm on April 14. The greenhouse, funded by Wesleyan's Green Fund, allows the student farmers to grow plants earlier in the growing season. The seedlings will be transplanted into the farm once warm weather stabilizes. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Hilary Brumberg ’17, who volunteers at Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm, recently received a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship to develop an environmental education program in Costa Rica. She’s pictured here watering gypsy broccoli seedlings inside the organic farm’s greenhouse.

Hilary Brumberg ’17, who volunteers at Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm, recently received a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship to develop an environmental education program in Costa Rica.

As a Princeton in Latin America Fellow (PiLA), Hilary Brumberg ’17 will spend next year working at Osa Conservation in Costa Rica developing a river conservation and environmental education program.

Brumberg is double majoring in earth and environmental sciences (E&ES) and Hispanic literatures and cultures. She’s also working on the environmental studies certificate.

PiLA matches highly qualified and motivated recent college graduates with partner organizations engaged in socially responsible development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Students at Wesleyan, in Madrid Collaborate through Teleconferencing

On March 28, the Spanish 258 class, taught by Antonio Gonzalez, professor of Spanish, interacted with a class at at Charles III University in Madrid, Spain over videoconferencing. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

On March 28, the Spanish 258 class, taught by Antonio Gonzalez, professor of Spanish, interacted with a class at at Charles III University in Spain over videoconferencing. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

This semester, students in Antonio Gonzalez’s Spanish 258, “The Intercultural Stage: Migration and the Performing Arts in the Hispanic World” have been experiencing what they study. With the assistance of a videoconferencing system, the Wesleyan students are “joined” in the classroom periodically by a group of students studying at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Charles III University in Madrid, Spain).

Gonzalez, professor of Spanish, co-teaches the course with his colleague in Spain, Julio Checa. Checa also works on modern/contemporary Spanish theater and performance, and the two have collaborated on various scholarly projects over the years. They previously ran the trans-Atlantic teaching project in spring 2014 using Skype, which Gonzalez said was much more rudimentary than the videoconferencing technology available now.

As director of the Center for Global Studies, Gonzalez was deeply involved in planning for the Fisk Hall renovation project, which included choosing the video conferencing system installed in the new telepresence classrooms.