Faculty

Shasha Seminar 2017 Convenes Experts on Gun Legislation Debate, Paths Forward, Oct. 27-28

Guns in American Society, this year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, will be held on campus on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 27-28. Made possible by a generous grant from the Shasha family, the 16th annual event will convene experts, including Wesleyan faculty and administrators, as well as alumni from across the country, to examine current debates about the role of guns in American society and discuss ways of reducing the national incidence of gun violence.

According to seminar organizer Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history and science in society and researcher in the history of technology, law and culture, guns are a topic of concern not just for those advocating for gun control but also for gun rights advocates, who see the issue as a question of personal liberty. The debate, she notes, is now moving onto college campuses, with the recent passage of legislation allowing guns on campus in 10 states. Additionally, 16 more states are considering such legislation.

Haddad Calls for Development of Volunteer Force to Respond to Natural Disasters

Mary Alice Haddad

Mary Alice Haddad

Amid the devastation wrought by recent storms, Professor of Government Mary Alice Haddad calls in The Hartford Courant for people everywhere to be better prepared to respond to natural disasters.

When the next storm hits our area, she writes, “It will not be professional first-responders but rather our neighbors who will be the ones handing our child to safety, lifting our dog from his perch atop the garage or helping our grandmother stay warm. America needs to build up its civil society infrastructure. We are known for our volunteerism, our generosity and our big hearts. We now need to organize that volunteer spirit a bit more thoughtfully in ways that can respond well when disaster strikes.”

Sumarsam Honored for Contributing, Fostering Traditional Indonesian Culture

Sumarsam, who is celebrating his 45th year at Wesleyan, teaches conference participants about gamelan. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

This month, the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture, will award Sumarsam, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, with a Cultural and Traditional Arts Maestro Award.

The honor, Satyalancana Kebudayaan, is awarded on decree from Indonesia President Joko Widodo and given to eight outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to develop and foster Indonesian traditional culture.

As Theater Department Chair, Conlin Says Students Leave Strengthened to Generate New Work

Kathleen Conlin, the Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Theater—here, behind the scenes with stage lights—values a rich mix of visiting professionals and continuing faculty, which results in a stimulating “creative collision.”

The Theater Department has begun fall semester with a new chair who combines an impressive list of creative accomplishments with deep and varied experience as an academic administrator.

Kathleen Conlin, Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Theater, has held tenured faculty positions at the University of Texas at Austin, Ohio State University, and the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana. While juggling the varied demands of an academic career, she also served for 22 seasons as associate artistic director and stage director at the Utah Shakespeare Theater.

“I love being around young people who are not narrowly defined and are actively working to discover who they are and who they are in society,” she says. “To be able to do that through an arts lens is spectacular.”

Rudensky’s Post-Putin Era Photographs on Display at Davison Art Center

Photographs by Assistant Professor of Art Sasha Rudensky ’01 are on display in the Davison Art Center through Dec. 10. During a gallery talk, Rudensky explained how she rented an unsedated boa constrictor to make the photograph Snake Handlers, pictured in the center.

For more than a decade, Assistant Professor of Art Sasha Rudensky ’01 has repeatedly returned to Russia and the post-Soviet territories to photograph a lost generation that has come of age during the Vladimir Putin era.

On Sept. 13, Rudensky debuted a collection of these photographs at an exhibit titled “Acts and Illusions” at the Davison Art Center. The exhibition presents 24 photographs together with a video installation, revealing an unsettling view into contemporary life in the New East. Elijah Huge, associate professor of art, associate professor of environmental studies, collaborated with Rudensky on the video installation. Clare Rogan, curator of the Davison Art Center, coordinated the exhibition.

Studio arts major Rudensky was born in Russia and moved to the U.S. when she was 11 and returned as an artist in 2004. She’s also an assistant professor of Russian, East European and Eurasian studies and teaches Photography I and Digital Photography I this fall.

Photos of the “Acts and Illusions” reception and gallery talk are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Yanique: Hurricane Irma Response Reflects Unresolved Feelings on U.S. Virgin Islands’ “Americanness”

Tiphanie YaniqueProfessor of English Typhanie Yanique writes in The New York Times on how the news media’s coverage and the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Irma’s devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands reflects a bigger failure of America to fully embrace and grant rights to the citizens who reside on the islands.

In an essay titled “Americans in a Battered Paradise,” Yanique explains that 2017 marks 100 years since the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Dutch to American rule. Yet this major anniversary has been scarcely noted in the continental United States. Virgin Islanders were granted American citizenship a decade after this transfer, yet still cannot vote in U.S. general elections.

The news media made a big deal out of Hurricane Irma’s landfall on the Florida Keys, Yanique writes, “But in truth Irma had struck United States land days before as a disastrous Category 5 hurricane. That was when it hit the United States Virgin Islands, devastating my home island, St. Thomas.”

¡Bienvenidos a Wespañol!

Seeing a need and filling it—that’s the story behind the creation of Wespañol, a newly launched online program that uses original video to help people who want to review and supplement their previous knowledge of Spanish without taking an actual class. The program’s launch coincides with the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 through Oct. 15).

Thomas Awarded NSF Grant for Paleoceanographic Research

Ellen Thomas

The availability of sufficient dissolved oxygen in seawater is critical for marine life, and places where oxygen falls below a critical concentration — or “dead zones” — are often associated with mass die-offs of fish, shrimp and other creatures.

With future global warming, the oceans are on course to see progressively less dissolved oxygen available. Scientists currently use often not well-tested computer models to predict the expansion of dead zones, but a team of researchers from Wesleyan, University California Riverside and Syracuse University are hoping to use oceanic sediment samples to better predict where die-offs may occur next.

Their study, titled “Refining Foraminifera I/Ca as a Paleoceanographic Proxy for the Glacial Atlantic Ocean” was funded by a National Science Foundation grant on Aug. 16. The award, worth $423,739, will be awarded to the three universities over three years.

Ellen Thomas, University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, research professor in earth and environmental sciences, will use her share of the funds to support undergraduate student summer research fellowships.

Hingorani, Lui, Zhou PhD ’13 Published in Biological Chemistry Journal

Three scholars from the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department are co-authors of a study published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry in August 2017. The paper is titled “Linchpin DNA-binding residues serve as go/no-go controls in the replication factor C-catalyzed clamp loading mechanism.”

The co-authors, Manju Hingorani, chair and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, professor of integrative sciences; Juan Liu, research associate; and Zayan Zhou, PhD ’13, performed the study on Replication Factor C (RFC) and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), which are two essential proteins required for DNA replication and repair in all living organisms.

The researchers found new mechanistic information about how different parts of the RFC protein work together to load PCNA onto DNA (by “clamp loading”), which allows PCNA to help dozens of other proteins to replicate and repair DNA.

The Hingorani group investigates proteins responsible for DNA replication and repair. These proteins maintain genome and cell integrity, and their malfunction leads to cancer and other diseases.

Linton Remembered for Teaching Mathematics at Wesleyan for 43 Years

Fred Linton

Fred E. J. Linton, professor of mathematics, emeritus, died Sept. 2 at the age of 79.

Linton was born in Italy to parents who were escaping to the United States from Hitler’s Germany. He studied mathematics at Yale and received his PhD from Columbia, then came directly to Wesleyan as an assistant professor in 1963. He became a full professor in 1972 and continued to teach mathematics here until his retirement in 2006, after a total of 43 years at Wesleyan. Linton supervised seven PhD students at Wesleyan, including one of the first Wesleyan doctoral students.

Linton was a highly respected mathematician whose area of research focused on category theory. He participated in many scientific conferences over the years and his papers on functorial semantics were quite famous. Linton also engaged deeply in other interests including international folk dancing, which he enjoyed throughout his entire adult life, classical music, traveling, and Indian literature and philosophy. He and his wife, Barbara Mikolajewska, published 12 volumes of the Polish translation of the Sanskrit epic poem, the “Mahabharata.”

Memorial contributions can be made to the Louis August Jonas Foundation (LAJF) and Camp Rising Sun (CRS), an international, full-scholarship leadership program, at 77 Bleecker St, C2-13, New York, NY 10012 or by e-mail at contact@lajf.org.

Faculty/Staff Band Mattabesset String Collective Performs

The Mattabesset String Collective is a five-piece Wesleyan-affiliated acoustic ensemble playing an eclectic mix of bluegrass, blues, folk, mountain, country and rock, all in a string band style.

The group’s name, Mattabesset, is the Algonquian name for the region that became Middletown. “Since our music reaches back into history, we thought it was appropriate. We were attracted to the term collective because it suggests the egalitarian nature of our enterprise,” said band member Marc Eisner, dean of the Social Sciences Division, the Henry Merritt Wriston Chair in Public Policy, professor of government, professor of environmental studies.

The band performed July 29 in Higganum, Conn. Photos of the concert are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

The Mattabesset String Collective is a five-piece string band featuring dobro, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass, banjo or cuatro. Pictured from left is Gil Skillman, Rebecca McCallum, Kevin Wiliarty, Marc Eisner and Barry Chernoff. 

Pictured from left is Gil Skillman, Rebecca McCallum, Kevin Wiliarty, Marc Eisner and Barry Chernoff. They have about 80 songs in their repertoire, ranging from old-time traditional jug band music, to string band versions of Jimi Hendrix and Guns N’ Roses, and a few songs written by band members. “One of the pleasures of playing in this band involves reaching for, and occasionally attaining, new levels of musical cohesion,” Skillman said.

Gil Skillman is professor of economics, tutor in the College of Social Studies. He plays the banjo, cuatro and dobro with the string collective.

Gil Skillman is professor of economics, tutor in the College of Social Studies. He plays the banjo, cuatro and dobro with the string collective. Skillman taught himself guitar as a teenager. “Once you learn to play one fretted instrument, learning others is primarily a matter of varying the approach to sounding the strings, which is easier than learning to play an instrument from the ground up,” he said.

Faculty Spotlight: Michelle Personick

Michelle Personick joined the faculty this fall, and is teaching courses in Chemistry of Materials and Nanomaterials and an Integrated Chemistry Lab. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences, is an advocate for Wesleyan Women in Science (WesWIS). “The more women (and underrepresented minorities) who pursue careers in the sciences, the more younger female and underrepresented students will be able to imagine themselves in those roles, and the sciences will begin to diversify,” she said. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this Q&A, we speak with Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences. Personick, who joined the faculty at Wesleyan in 2015, is interested in developing tailored metal nanomaterials that improve the clean production of energy and enable the efficient use of energy resources. Her work has recently been published in the journals Particle and Particle Systems Characterization and American Chemical Society Catalysis.

Q: Professor Personick, how would you describe your main research interests?

A: The main research areas in my group are controlling the shape and composition of noble metal nanocrystals, and exploring the use of these nanoparticles as catalysts to improve the efficiency and selectivity of reactions that are important in chemical industry and in energy production.

When she's not teaching or working in the lab, Michelle Personick, at right, rows crew with the Riverfront Recapture masters racing team in Hartford.

When she’s not teaching or working in the lab, Michelle Personick, at right, rows with the Riverfront Recapture masters racing team in Hartford, Conn.

Q: When did you develop an interest in chemistry?

A: I’ve always been interested in science in general, but it was more a broader interest than a specific focus on chemistry. There was actually a period of time in high school when I wanted to be a particle physicist. I chose chemistry after writing an essay about a cool new light-controlled nanoparticle cancer treatment for a class my senior year in high school.

Q: What attracted you to Wesleyan and how has your experience been here over the last couple years?

A: I had a really positive small liberal arts college experience at Middlebury, where most of my professors knew who I was and cared about how I was doing in their class. Once I decided I wanted to be a professor, I knew that was the type of environment I wanted. In the different courses I’ve taught in my first two years, I’ve found the atmosphere at Wesleyan to be well-matched to pursuing that kind of teaching philosophy. What attracted me to Wesleyan specifically are the unique research opportunities that come out of having a small, but strong, graduate program in addition to being a top-tier undergraduate institution. The advanced research instrumentation here at Wesleyan, such as the electron microscopy facility, is also crucial to our ability to successfully carry out our research. I’d always wanted to work primarily with undergraduates once I set up my own research lab, but having even just two graduate students in that lab as well makes an enormous difference in the level of research I’m able to carry out. In turn, that creates an environment in which the very talented undergraduates I’ve had in my group so far have the opportunity to work on independent projects that get published in peer-reviewed journals and that are well-received by other scientists at major conferences. It’s been very rewarding over the last two years to get our lab up and running and to begin to see the results of the hard work put in by all of my research students, undergraduate and graduate.