Faculty

Jenkins Stages Play in Florentine Prison

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, recently completed a collaboration with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Florence, Italy. The center asked Jenkins to stage a play in a Florentine prison on the theme of human rights.

The play, which was based on Dante Aligheri’s 14,000 line epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” was performed on July 14 and featured Coro Galilei, a choir that specializes in Gregorian chants, and actors from a local prison. The script consisted of texts written by the prisoners on the theme of justice intertwined with fragments from the “Divine Comedy” and interviews with human rights activists from around the world.

“Dante’s Inferno” is the most famous section of “The Divine Comedy” and is based on Dante’s real life in 14th century Italy, where he was a city official, diplomatic negotiator, and a man who dared to cross the Pope. Dante also was a convict and convicted of crimes, and Jenkins uses Dante to connect with incarcerated men and women.

“Dante was condemned to death, but we do not remember him as a convict,” Jenkins told the audience at Sollicciano prison in his prologue to the play. “We remember him as writer and philosopher who denounced the lack of justice in his society. After having seen our play, we hope you will remember the performers, not as convicts, but as writers whose words are born from the wisdom of experience, as Dante said, ‘Men of great value…. Suspended in this limbo.'”

Jenkins has already taught “Dante’s Inferno” and acting to inmates in Connecticut and Indonesia. Jenkins encourages incarcerated men and women to make connections between their own life stories and the experiences of the characters in classics like “Dante’s Inferno.” Their thoughts are used to create play scripts that are performed inside a prison. Wesleyan students also perform the scripts at other colleges and in the community, and engage in discussions about issues related to reforming the country’s criminal justice system.

Wesleyan Students Help Local Preschoolers Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten

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Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 works with children in the Kindergarten Kickstart program on July 14 at Bielefield School in Middletown. The program, which is taught by Wesleyan students and local teachers, is celebrating its fifth year this summer. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Kindergarten Kickstart, a research-based, summer pre-K program for children in Middletown created by Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and her students, is celebrating its fifth year. It’s marking the occasion with an event July 20 at the Middletown Roller Skating Rink (free for any current or past Kickstart family, 4 to 6 p.m.) and using a new grant to further develop student innovation in the program.

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At left, Megan Dolan ’17 and Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 help Kindergarden Kickstart students during outdoor playtime.

Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012 as a pilot program with 15 children at MacDonough School. They designed the curriculum and taught the program together with a MacDonough teacher. Today, this five-week program serves 35 children at Bielefield and Farm Hill schools (who will be entering kindergarten at those schools plus MacDonough), with six Wesleyan undergraduates and recent alumni leading the classes and developing the curriculum. A certified teacher continues to work at each site. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including a small budget from Wesleyan’s Provost, the Foundation for Greater Hartford, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, and a seed grant from Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

The program is intended for children who could benefit from an extra pre-school experience before beginning kindergarten in the fall. Through a partnership between university-based research labs, Middletown Public Schools and local community organizations, Kindergarten Kickstart aims to bridge the research-to-practice gap and improve participants’ school readiness skills through a short-term, high-impact, low-cost preschool program.

According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot.

Shusterman said Kindergarten Kickstart was started as a way to put early childhood research into practice.

Shapiro Translates Anthology of French Poet Cécile Périn

51foxWquF1L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Norman Shapiro, professor of French and the Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation, is the author/translator of The Gentle Genius of Cécile Périn: Selected Poems (1906-1956), published by Black Widow Press, 2016. This comprehensive bi-lingual anthology covers the full expanse of Périn’s (1877-1959) works.

“A reader of Cécile Périn’s work cannot help being struck by the spontaneous and intuitive nature of her poems, effortlessly flowing from one subject to another, touching the reader by their unstrained yet profoundly beautiful images and sounds,” Shapiro said.

Despite limited bibliographical resources available on Périn’s life, The Gentle Genius provides readers with sufficient material to embrace fully her talent and confidently identify her as a significant femme de lettres. For contemporary readers, this work gives renewed access to the world of female imagination in the mostly male-dominated field of early and mid-20th-century French poetry. Her images of female sexuality, free and uncensored, are placidly combined with descriptions of nature and human emotions-not overly romanticized-to create a harmonious and warm verse, candid and authentic, yet no less profoundly artistic.

Shapiro is an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la République Française and a member of the Academy of American Poets.

Hornstein, Hounsell ’11 Co-Author Paper in Journal of Economics and Business

Abigail Hornstein

Abigail Hornstein

Associate Professor of Economics Abigail Hornstein and James Hounsell ’11 are the authors of a new paper published in The Journal of Economics and Business titled “Managerial investment in mutual funds: Determinants and performance implications.”

In the paper, Hornstein and Hounsell examine what determines managerial investments in mutual funds, and the impacts of these investments on fund performance. By using panel data they show that investment levels fluctuate within funds over time, contrary to the common assumption that cross-sectional data are representative. Managerial investments reflect personal portfolio considerations while also signaling incentive alignment with investors. The impact of managerial investment on performance varies by whether the fund is solo- or team-managed. Fund performance is higher for solo-managed funds and lower for team-managed funds when managers invest more. These results are consistent with the higher visibility of solo managers, and less extreme investment returns of team-managed funds. The results suggest investors may not benefit from all managerial signals of incentive alignment as managerial investments also reflect personal portfolio considerations.

Read the full paper here.

President Roth, Ulysse Respond to Recent Black Men Killings, Police Murders

In a July 11 Roth on Wesleyan blog, President Michael Roth responds to two recent killings of black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the murders of five police officers in Texas. In the blog, titled, “On What Matters” Roth shares his own thoughts and the reflections of others that he found meaningful. He writes:

Too often I have written blog posts about tragedies, violence, injustice. From attacks in other parts of the world to devastation right here in the USA, I have expressed sorrow, anger—and often a feeling of solidarity with those who have suffered, are suffering. Readers have pointed out that my compassion, like other forms of attention, is selective. There are plenty of injustices that have gone unremarked in this space, either because of my own ignorance or my judgments about what I should be writing about in this Roth on Wesleyan blog.

I have followed the news reports and commentaries closely over the last week. What horror unfolds before us! The brutal killings by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana and the vicious murders of police officers in Dallas that followed have underscored how violence can destroy individual lives while shaking communities to the core.

In her latest piece in The Huffington Post, Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, responds to the recent killings of black men.

She writes:

My optimism wanes and my patience continues to be tried with each new extra judicial killing, each exoneration. Each one is more confirmation of the deep rootedness of our inequality. We bear the weight of history so unequally. It is written on our bodies and etched in the color of our skin. Human chattel. Property. Slaves. That is the undue burden, the inequity we live with, that simply cannot be undone unconsciously. Its transformation, if that (I am not naïve), requires so much more than will. To bring about a modicum of change we must not only intentionally attempt, but also be determined, to shift. It will not happen par hazard. Because history has seen to it that the exchange, use, and sign value ascribed to Black lives remains unequal to that of Whites. We are differentially positioned and invested.

What story do you tell yourself to assuage the comfort you find in the social luxury of being in an unmarked body. Your silence is your complicity. Where is your outrage as we all bear witness to this moment?

Read more here.

Model Composes Music for Silent Films

Ben Model

Ben Model

Ben Model, visiting assistant professor of film, is spending the summer months composing scores and arranging music with the Frederick Symphony Orchestra in Frederick, Maryland.

Model, a silent film accompanist, performs on both piano and theater organ. The orchestra will perform a concert on July 20 at Baker Park in Maryland, including Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant; Buster Keaton’s Cops; and Felix the Cat in Pedigreedy

Model also is performing live music this summer, including a Leo McCarry retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art; at a festival in South Korea in August; and a silent movie festival in Northern Norway in early September. Learn more about Model online here.

Model, who taught at Wesleyan in 2015-16, will return to campus next spring to teach a class on silent film.

Tang Authors Book on Asian American Literature after Multiculturalism

Amy TangAmy Tang, assistant professor of English, assistant professor of American studies, is the author of Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism published by Oxford University Press, May 2016,

Repetition and Race explores the literary forms and critical frameworks occasioned by the widespread institutionalization of liberal multiculturalism by turning to the exemplary case of Asian American literature. Tang reinterprets the political grammar of four forms of repetition central to minority discourse: trauma, pastiche, intertextuality and self-reflexivity.

She shows how texts by Theresa Cha, Susan Choi, Karen Tei Yamashita, Chang-rae Lee, and Maxine Hong Kingston use structures of repetition to foreground moments of social and aesthetic impasse, suspension, or hesitation rather than instances of reversal or resolution.

Lensing Reviews Biography of Fritz Lang

UnknownLeo Lensing, professor of film studies, is the author of a review essay titled “Fritz Lang, man of the eye. On the Edgar Allan Poe of German Cinema,” published in the June 15 issue of the Times Literary Supplement (London). The TLS cover article takes stock of Fritz Lang. Die Biographie (Propyläen Verlag, 2014), the first full-length biography in German of the great Austrian-German filmmaker Fritz Lang (1890-1976), and compares it unfavorably with Fritz Lang. The Nature of the Beast, the standard American life by Patrick McGilligan.

Lang’s reputation, Lensing writes, continues to be linked primarily to two films he made during the Weimar Republic: “the famous blockbuster flop Metropolis (1927)”; and M (1931), “the infamously empathetic profile of a serial killer, which Lang often called his favorite. Metropolis, still often categorized as ‘a flawed masterpiece’ by film scholars, has become even more popular and influential. Every metropolitan dystopia from Blade Runner to Batman Returns owes something to its visionary scenario of a technologically unhinged future.”

Lensing writes that “Grob’s treatment of the monumental making of this ‘urtext of cinematic modernity’ (Thomas Elsaesser) typifies his biography’s modest virtues. Grob’s narrative often veers between compact scenarios and long, thinly fleshed-out lists of people met, films seen, theater performances attended, art exhibitions visited and, especially, women wined and dined. While this enhanced name-dropping with its litany of intellectual, artistic and erotic contacts can be beguiling, the overall effect raises questions of the kind for which a biographer should supply answers.”

Personick Wins LaMer Award from American Chemical Society

Michelle Personick

Michelle Personick

Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, received the Victor K. LaMer Award from the American Chemical Society Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry. The honor, which comes with a $3,000 monetary award, was presented at the ACS Colloid and Surface Science Symposium June 5-8 at Harvard University, where she presented a plenary talk.

The Victor K. LaMer Award is presented to the author of an outstanding PhD thesis in colloid or surface chemistry. LaMer was the editor of the Journal of Colloid Science (now the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science) from its founding in 1946 to 1965. In addition to his seminal work on colloids, LaMer’s fundamental contributions to physical chemistry have found their way into every textbook and university course on that subject.

Personick received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Middlebury College in 2009 and a PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University in 2013. Her doctoral thesis was titled “Controlling the Shape and Crystallinity of Gold and Silver Nanoparticles.”

A key advance of her dissertation work was the development of a comprehensive set of design guidelines for controlling the shape of gold nanoparticles via reaction kinetics and surface passivation effects. Her graduate research contributed to 15 articles published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nano Letters, Science and others.

From 2013 to 2015, Personick was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard. As a member of the Integrated Mesoscale Architectures for Sustainable Catalysis (IMASC) Energy Frontier Research Center, she studied selective oxidative transformations of alcohols on nanoporous gold alloy catalysts. In July 2015, she joined the faculty at Wesleyan where her research focuses on the synthesis of noble metal alloy nanoparticles with well-defined shapes and catalytically active high-energy surfaces.

The Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry is one of the most active Divisions in the ACS with approximately 2,500 members throughout the world.

Gottschalk writes on Islamophobia, Homophobia and Orlando

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

In the wake of the unparalleled homophobic violence committed in Orlando this month, and the Islamophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments expressed only hours later (notably, by presidential candidate Donald Trump), Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk writes an op-ed for Inside Sources about the deep roots of all three in America.

He opens on a personal note: “As a boy in the late 1960s and 1970s, I knew there were few more destructive suspicions that could be voiced about me than those connoted by the label ‘gay.’ While the term might be flung at someone by friends as a joke, it could be a damning adjective if antagonistically and permanently attached to one’s name. […] Meanwhile — in an era that extended through two Israeli-Arab wars, the OPEC oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution — Middle Eastern politics reinforced longstanding American antipathies toward Arabs and Muslims. I grew up with the impression that all Muslims were Arab, violent and non-American. Of what others did one hear?”

Gottschalk goes on:

Raised in the United States, perhaps (killer Omar) Mateen’s homophobia stemmed, at least in part, from the same fears from which mine did. However, it seems significant that his father reported that Mateen’s outrage was piqued recently when the killer’s 3-year-old son saw two men kissing. In addition to whatever childhood antipathies with which he likely grew up, his homophobic-fueled fury seemingly also fed on fears that public gay life represented a threat to his family, if not to society in general: attitudes still expressed by too many Americans.

It is here that the homophobia still sadly endemic in America intersects with an Islamophobia that also has a long history. Donald Trump lost no time connecting Mateen’s horrible violence to his demand that all Muslim immigration into the United States temporarily cease. His speeches repeat tired stereotypes debunked too long ago to be accidental.

The Republican presidential nominee consistently uses “Muslim” and “Middle Eastern” as interchangeable terms, even though the overwhelming majority of Muslims live outside that region, which is also populated by sizable Christian and Jewish populations.

And Trump loudly insinuates that Muslims should be suspect not only because, as immigrants from conflict zones, they might bring violence with them. In his statement about Muslim migrants on Sunday, he claimed, “And we will have no way to screen them, pay for them, or prevent the second generation from radicalizing.”

An uncritical audience would likely ask why — if the children of migrants might radicalize — might not the third, fourth or 10th generation do so? Are not nearly all Muslims therefore suspect?

Read more here.

Gottschalk is also professor of science in society.

Morgan Speaks on Laser-Induced Breakdowns at Plasma Physics Conference

Tom Morgan

Tom Morgan

Tom Morgan, Foss Professor of Physics, recently attended the 43rd Institute of Physics U.K. Plasma Physics Conference in Isle of Skye, Scotland. He presented a flash verbal presentation and a poster contribution dealing with the properties of water following focused laser induced breakdown.

After a plasma (a gas of ions and free electrons) is formed in water by laser breakdown, the energy is dissipated through light emission, shockwaves and cavitation bubbles. When the breakdown is close to the surface of the water, surface waves and water ejection from the surface up to heights of 60 cm also occur.

All of these phenomena have been observed in the laboratory at Wesleyan in conjunction with Lutz Huwel, professor of physics, Matt Mei ’18, and international collaborators. Joining the effort from abroad are Professor Tomoyuki Murakami, Seikei University, Tokyo, and Professor Bill Graham, Queen’s University, N. Ireland.

New effects not seen before have been observed, particularly near the surface at the air-water interface. The air-water interface is ubiquitous with applications to biology, environmental studies, chemical analysis and medicine, but its detailed behavior under different conditions is not well understood. The research uses both state of the art computer simulation and experimentation to elucidate the evolutionary dynamics and structure of bulk water and the air-water interface.

“Since the meeting was in Scotland, the researchers though it appropriate to try a liquid other than water and results were reported on whiskey as well,” Morgan said.

Naegele Co-Authors New Paper in Nature Communications

Jan Naegele is one of 19 women faculty in the country to receive a Drexel Fellowship.

Jan Naegele

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and development, is the co-author of a new paper titled, “Convulsive seizures from experimental focal cortical dysplasia occur independently of cell misplacement.” It was published in Nature Communications on June 1.

Brain malformations called focal cortical dysplasia are typically formed during human embryonic cortical development and are a common cause of drug-resistant epilepsy and cognitive impairments. One of the causes of cortical dysplasia is improper migration of developing cortical neurons. Failure to reach their correct destinations in the cerebral cortex and dysregulated growth leads to the formation of growths or tubers in regions of cerebral cortex. These abnormal growths don’t wire up properly with other cortical neurons and exhibit seizure activity. In this multi-lab collaborative study, the researchers show in mice with experimentally-generated cortical malformations that there is an increase in growth-associated signaling molecules in experimentally-generated cortical tubers associated with seizures. Blocking this signaling cascade with the molecule rapacycin from early stages can prevent the neuronal misplacement, tuber-like growths, and seizures, but once rapamycin is discontinued, the seizures return. Despite the adverse side-effects of taking rapamycin, these findings suggest that life-long treatment with rapamycin may be required in individuals with focal cortical dysplasia, in order to prevent the re-occurrence of seizures and tubers.

The paper is co-authored with Felicia Harrsch, Naegele’s former lab manager, and researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine.