Faculty

Rasmussen in The Conversation: Using Computers to Crack Open Centuries-Old Mathematical Puzzles

Christopher Rasmussen

Christopher Rasmussen

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Associate Professor of Mathematics Christopher Rasmussen writes about his recent collaboration with other number theorists to create a computer package to solve a problem called the “S-unit equation.”

Using computers to crack open centuries-old mathematical puzzles

In mathematics, no researcher works in true isolation. Even those who work alone use the theorems and methods of their colleagues and predecessors to develop new ideas.

But when a known technique is too difficult to use in practice, mathematicians may neglect important—and otherwise solvable—problems.

Recently, I joined several mathematicians on a project to make one such technique easier to use. We produced a computer package to solve a problem called the “S-unit equation,” with the hope that number theorists of all stripes can more easily attack a wide variety of unsolved problems in mathematics.

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Gizmodo: “What’s the Oldest Disease?”

Douglas Charles, professor of anthropology, professor of archaeology, says “we don’t know” the answer to this question because of limitations in fossil records. However, he says that there are indications of tuberculosis, leprosy and tumors found in ancient human and Homo erectus skeletons.

  1. The Middletown Press: “Wesleyan University to Move 90 Employees to Main Street Middletown”

Wesleyan’s University Relations staff and most Finance staff will move to the Main Street building as part of the University’s strategic facilities plan. This move further strengthens ties between the University and the community.

2. The Wall Street Journal: “Five Best: Andrew Curran on Intellectual Freedom”

Grabel Wins Women of Innovation® Award

Laura Grabel, pictured at far right, is one of 11 women in the state of Connecticut to receive a Women of Innovation® Award.

Laura Grabel, the retired Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, received an award at the 15th Annual Connecticut Technology Council Women of Innovation® Awards presentation on March 27.

The Women of Innovation® program recognizes women innovators, role models, and leaders in science and technology professions, as well as outstanding young women at the high school and collegiate level pursuing technology studies. Of 50 finalists, 11 were recognized as winners in their respective categories; Grabel took the top spot in the Academic Innovation & Leadership (Postsecondary) category.

Grabel, who also is a retired professor of biology, is an accomplished scientist engaged in understanding how the fertilized egg can become a complex organism. This spring, she is teaching Reproduction in the 21st Century.

Public Broadcasting Studio in South Dakota Named in Honor of Jeanine Basinger

Barb and Van Fishback

Brookings, S.D., residents and donors Barb and Van Fishback stand outside the newly named Jeanine Basinger Studio located on the campus of Basinger’s alma mater, South Dakota State University.

South Dakota State University (SDSU) recently named a studio in honor of Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and special advisor to the president. Basinger has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from SDSU and is a former resident of Brookings, S.D.

Jeanine Basinger

The South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Jeanine Basinger Studio, located on SDSU’s Brookings campus, enables professional, high-quality sound for guests and interviews. The Basinger Studio was funded by Brookings residents Barb and Van Fishback.

“We are pleased to recognize SDSU Distinguished Alumna and world-renowned film educator and author Jeanine Basinger with the new SDPB Basinger Studio,” said Barb and Van Fishback in a recent SDPB press release. “Jeanine and we are proud of the opportunity to enhance public broadcasting for South Dakota and strengthen the relationship between SDPB and the university.”

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The GlobePost: “Trump’s Foreign Trade Policy and the Art of the Deal”

In this op-ed, Giulio Gallarotti, professor of government, co-chair of the College of Social Studies, argues that Donald Trump’s approach to U.S. trade policy is shaped by his career as a real estate mogul and businessman.

2. The Hartford Courant: “Don’t Let the ‘Green New Deal’ Hijack the Climate’s Future”

This op-ed coauthored by Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe expresses concern that the broad, aspirational goals contained in the “Green New Deal” proposal from Democrats in Congress “will impede continued progress on the climate front for years to come.”

3. The Tyee: “Lessons in Democracy from Haida Gwaii”

This review calls Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life Beyond Settler Colonialism by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Joseph Weiss a “remarkable book” that explores “the whole relationship of ‘settler’ Canada to the peoples whose lands we’ve occupied.”

4. Hartford Courant: “Middletown to Host LGBTQ Pride Parade in June”

Wesleyan, together with the City of Middletown and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, will coordinate Middletown’s inaugural LGBTQ pride parade on June 15. The event, which will also feature a festival on the South Green, will celebrate and affirm respect for members of the local queer community. Its timing coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement in June 1969.

5. South Dakota Public Broadcasting: “Fishbacks’ Gift Opens SDPB Basinger Studio at SDSU”

A satellite broadcast studio at South Dakota State University has been named in honor of Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, special advisor to the president, and an alumna of SDSU. “We are pleased to recognize SDSU Distinguished Alumni and world-renowned film educator and author Jeanine Basinger with the new SDPB Basinger Studio on SDSU’s campus in Brookings,” said Barb and Van Fishback, the donors who made the gift possible.

Recent Alumni News

  1. SXSW.com: “Bozoma Saint John [’99]: How Marketing Can Spur Social Change”

Bozoma Saint John ’99 was the Convergence Keynote Speaker for SXSWORLD, March 8-17, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Writes Doyin Oyeniyi for the official website: “Bozoma Saint John thinks and talks about empathy quite a bit. For the marketing executive and SXSW 2019 Convergence Keynote speaker, this is integral to the work that she does currently as chief marketing officer for Endeavor, and it’s been an important feature of her previous work with companies such as PepsiCo, Apple and Uber. As she explains, empathy is what makes the difference in actually being able to establish impactful connections through storytelling and marketing.”

2. New York Times Book Review: “Growing Up With Murder All Around,” by Eric Klinenberg

The March 4, 2019, issue of The New York Times Book Review features Eric Klinenberg’s review of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, by Alex Kotlowitz ’77 on its front page. “Like Kotlowitz’s now classic 1991 book, There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in a Chicago housing project, An American Summer forgoes analysis and instead probes the human damage that stems from exposure to violence. What he finds is important,” writes Klinenberg. He calls Kotlowitz’s latest work “a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents, or to register the depth of their pain.”

3. International Documentary Awards: “Reflections on Andrew Berends [’94],” by James Longley ’94

An editor’s note begins the piece: “Documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Andrew Berends passed away—just a week after Free Solo, on which he was one of the cinematographers, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary…. We thank Longley for sharing his reflections with us.”

Longley recalls meeting Berends in 1991, when they both entered Wesleyan as transfer students and became film majors. “I was the DP on his thesis film, and I could see his determination and commitment to filmmaking taking shape,” writes Longley. “After college we were off finding our parallel paths; I made a film about the Gaza Strip and he made a film about North Sea fishermen in the Netherlands. We reconnected in Iraq. I arrived before him; he was looking for advice and contacts. He wanted to know how he should dress for the place. Maybe grow a beard, I suggested. Andy showed up in Baghdad looking like a werewolf with mange. Lose the beard, I suggested.” Tracing their “parallel paths” with warmth, admiration, and deep sorrow, Longley—himself the director of award-winning documentary films including Iraq in Fragments and Sari’s Mother—notes that “Andy was my friend, he was my brother, he was as strong a person as I’ll likely ever know.”

4. Boston Globe: “Grad Schools Lag in Promoting Diversity,” by Syed Ali [’13]

The author, a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University, responded to an earlier article in the newspaper that called for Harvard to increase its commitment to diversity across its graduate school hirings and admissions. “This semester, I am enrolled in five classes at five different graduate schools (three at Harvard, two at MIT), and I believe that my peers and I would benefit from additional perspectives in each case. This extends to the faculty. Of the 15 courses I shopped across three Harvard graduate schools, 11 were taught by white men, four by white women,” he writes. Ali was an English and government double major at Wesleyan.

 

 

 

Grabel Named a Connecticut Women of Innovation Finalist

Laura Grabel

For her efforts creating and fostering STEM initiatives that support women in science, Laura Grabel, the retired Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, was selected as a Women of Innovation finalist by the Connecticut Technology Council in March. She is one of 50 finalists in the state.

Grabel, who also is a retired professor of biology, is an accomplished scientist engaged in understanding how the fertilized egg can become a complex organism. This spring, she is teaching Reproduction in the 21st Century.

In addition to publishing dozens of academic articles and a book on ethical stem cell research, Grabel fosters STEM initiatives that focus on supporting women in science, such as teaching a course on the biology of women at York Correctional Institution, and collaborating with professional choreographers to convey complex scientific concepts through movement and dance in and outside of the classroom.

The Connecticut Technology Council is a statewide trade association focused on technology and technology-oriented companies and institutions, providing leadership, guidance, and support in areas of policy advocacy, community-building, and assistance for growing companies.

The Women of Innovation program seeks to celebrate and create a growing network of women working in STEM areas. Finalists are scientists, researchers, academics, manufacturers, student leaders, entrepreneurs, and technicians.

The finalists will be recognized at the 15th annual Women of Innovation awards gala on March 27.

Read more in this Middletown Press article.

Wesleyan Confers Tenure to 8 Faculty, 1 Promoted

Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees conferred tenure to eight faculty members, effective July 1. They include:

· David Constantine, associate professor of mathematics
· Megan Glick, associate professor of American studies
· Kerwin Kaye, associate professor of sociology
· Jeffers Lennox, associate professor of history
· Maria Ospina, associate professor of Spanish
· Justine Quijada, associate professor of religion
· Lily Saint, associate professor of English

In addition, one faculty member was promoted to full professor:
· Nicole Stanton, professor of dance

Brief descriptions of their areas of research and teaching appear below:

David Constantine’s research examines the relationship between dynamics and geometry – what the geometry of an object can reveal about its dynamics, and what the dynamics of an object can reveal about its geometry.

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Forbes: “Three Questions to Ask Yourself at the Beginning of Your Career”

Sharon Belden Castonguay, director of the Gordon Career Center, offers career advice for young people just starting out.

2. The Times Literary Supplement: “Multiple Lives”

Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English, coordinator of South Asian studies, explores the “complicated existence” of Mahatma Gandhi.

3. The Washington Post: “The Delight of Being Inconspicuous in a World That’s Always Watching Us”

President Michael Roth reviews a new book, How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency, by Akiko Busch.

Tavernier, Students Coauthor Paper on Psychological Trauma of Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are becoming more common all over the world. While the focus is often on restoring physical damage, these disasters also impact residents of the affected region psychologically in ways that are less well understood.

In a paper published in the journal Traumatology on Feb. 7, Assistant Professor of Psychology Royette Tavernier, along with five student coauthors, examined the psychological impact of tropical storm Erika, which hit the Caribbean island of Dominica in August 2015. The data analyzed was based on a sample of 174 college-aged individuals who completed survey-based assessments of several psychosocial variables six months after the storm.

Results showed that more negative exposure to the storm (e.g., displacement, lack of access to food and water) was associated with poor quality sleep, which, in turn, was associated with poorer psychological adjustment (higher rumination, less effective emotion regulation strategies and less perceived psychological growth from the experience of the storm). Furthermore, those who were more negatively affected by the storm had higher religious coping (praying, meditating). Interestingly, higher religious coping was linked with both positive (higher perceived psychological growth from the experience of the storm) and negative (higher rumination and PTSD symptoms) aspects of psychological adjustment.

According to Tavernier, these findings highlight the important roles that both sleep and religious coping play in explaining psychological adjustment in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Poulos, Students Collaborate on 2 Publications

Helen PoulosHelen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, is the coauthor of two published papers in February.

Response of Arizona cypress (Hesperocyparis arizonica) to the Horseshoe Two Megafire in a south-eastern Arizona Sky Island mountain range,” is published in the February issue of International Journal of Wildland Fire (Issue 28, pages 62-69). It is coauthored by Andrew Barton, professor of biology at the University of Maine at Farmington.

This study documents the effects of the 2011 Horseshoe Two Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona on Arizona Cypress. Two Wesleyan students, Hunter Vannier ’20 and Michael Freiburger ’21 assisted with the fieldwork in 2018 as part of their College of the Environment summer fellowships.

The group documented the effects of a fire-sensitive tree species that survives wildfire through fire-induced seed release (serotiny). On sites subject to severe fire, most mature cypresses were killed, the canopy opened, and seedlings established abundantly. Their results firmly establish Arizona cypress as a fire-sensitive but fire-embracing species that depends on stand-replacing fire (the loss of overstory trees) for regeneration.

“A drier future with more frequent wildfires could pose serious threats to all New World cypresses if these species do not have enough time between fire events to reach sexual maturity,” Poulos explained.

The second paper, titled “Invasive species and carbon flux: the case of invasive beavers (Castor canadensis) in riparian Nothofagus forests of Tierra del Fuego, Chile” was published in the February issue of Climatic Change. It is coauthored by biology major Chloe Papier ’17 and Alejandro Kusch of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Punta Arenas, Chile.

For this study, Papier completed a month of fieldwork in Patagonia on a College of the Environment winter fellowship.

The researchers documented the effects of invasive North American beavers (Castor canadensis) on carbon sequestration of riparian Nothofagus forests in Tierra del Fuego, Chile. Their results suggest that beaver invasion can result in major differences between aboveground carbon in invaded versus un-invaded forest stands.

Gary Yohe, professor of economics; the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies; and professor, environmental studies; serves as the coeditor in chief of the journal.

Jacobsen Named President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Joyce Jacobsen

Joyce Jacobsen

On Feb. 8, President Michael Roth announced in a campus-wide email that Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Joyce Jacobsen will become the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., beginning July 1.

In announcing Jacobsen’s appointment as president, Hobart and William Smith’s Board of Trustees Chair Thomas Bozzuto said, “President Jacobsen is a prominent scholar and an esteemed educator with a deep understanding of the interdisciplinary inquiry so vital to our mission here at Hobart and William Smith. In her work with students and colleagues in the academy, and with preeminent national and international organizations, she has distinguished herself as a remarkable leader with the experience, values, and vision to pilot the Colleges to new heights.”

Jacobsen joined Wesleyan’s Economics Department in 1993 and has contributed to the University in myriad ways—as a scholar, teacher, and administrator—since that time.

In the all-campus email, Roth wrote, “As a leader of the University, Joyce has touched nearly every aspect of university operations—overseeing the entire academic enterprise at Wesleyan, including Athletics, Institutional Research, and Community Partnerships. She has also been a thoughtful contributor to student affairs and equity and inclusion, and has helped create fundraising and stewardship plans and collaborated on admission and enrollment strategies.”

Plous Honored with Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota

Scott Plous

For his accomplishments in research and scholarship, the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychology is honoring Professor of Psychology Scott Plous with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Plous graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1980 with a BA degree in psychology, summa cum laude. He later completed a PhD in psychology and a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. At Wesleyan, Plous’s research focuses on judgment and decision-making, prejudice and discrimination, and the human use of animals and the environment.

The University of Minnesota’s alumni awards honor distinguished alumni from the undergraduate and graduate programs. Nominations are solicited from alumni, faculty, and friends of psychology at Minnesota and are reviewed by a Distinguished Alumni Awards Committee, who forward their recommendations to the department chair.

“This award recognizes [Plous’s] distinguished accomplishments in research and scholarship, both basic and applied, as well as in education and enhancing public awareness and impact of psychological science and practice,” wrote Jeffry Simpson, chair of the University of Minnesota’s psychology department, and Mark Snyder of the Distinguished Alumni Awards Committee, in an award letter to Plous. “Your achievements are truly distinguished, and we are so pleased to have you among our truly distinguished alumni.”