Faculty

Fowler Uses Facebook Data to Analyze Role of Social Media in Elections

Erika Franklin Fowler is examining different sponsors of political advertising and the messaging strategy and targeting differences between Facebook and television. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this Q&A, we speak to Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government. Fowler is an expert in political communication, particularly local media and campaign advertising.

Q: With the midterm elections around the corner, what’s caught your interest this election cycle?

A: The Trump era has brought many challenges for political communication broadly and journalism specifically to the forefront of public attention, so there are too many things to discuss, but I’ll mention two in particular. First, the politicization of news media is problematic as it erodes common understanding among the public, which makes for very interesting conversations in my Media and Politics class, but is certainly concerning for democracy. Second, with respect to elections, I am very interested to see the strategic choices of how campaigns communicate on the big policy developments in health care and tax reform in particular.

Q: You were recently invited to serve on an independent research commission, Social Science One, which will use Facebook data to analyze the role of social media in elections and democracy. Why is this a unique opportunity?

A: Unlike the comprehensive data we have for television, data on Facebook advertising has not been previously available to outside researchers. Social Science One sets up a new model for industry partnership with academics to increase responsible data access and foster research on some of the most pressing questions regarding the effect of social media on democracy and elections.

Cho Named U.S.-Korea NextGen Scholar

Joan Cho is one of 11 U.S.-Korea NextGen Scholars in the country.

As a 2018-19 U.S.-Korea NextGen Scholar, Joan Cho, assistant professor of East Asian studies, will develop public policy skills and learn how to provide commentary and expertise on issues related to Korea.

The U.S.-Korea NextGen Scholars Program is a unique two-year non-resident program that provides opportunities for mid-career Korea specialists to discuss issues of importance to U.S.-Korea relations with policymakers, government officials, and opinion leaders in Korea and the United States, learn how to effectively engage with the media, participate in the policymaking process, gain experience as public intellectuals helping to bridge the scholarly and policy communities, and address issues of importance to the U.S.-Korea relationship.

“As a Korean-American scholar of contemporary Korean politics, it is my goal to better inform Koreans and Americans that the U.S.-Korea relationship is not limited to foreign relations on a national level,” Cho said. “The NextGen Scholar program will provide me with the opportunity to engage with key policymakers in Washington and Seoul. I’ll also be able to network with like-minded scholars from diverse backgrounds, and collaborate on various research/policy-relevant projects while learning to become a public intellectual.”

Personick Honored with Young Investigator Program Award from Army Research Office

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

Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, is the recipient of a three-year, $339,000 Young Investigator Program grant funded by the U.S. Army Research Office. Personick will use the funds to support her nanoparticle research, which ultimately may protect military soldiers from hazardous chemicals and materials.

The Army’s Young Investigator Program is designed to identify and support talented scientists and engineers who show exceptional promise for doing creative research, in order to encourage their teaching and research careers. The program is open to U.S. citizens, Nationals, and resident aliens holding tenure-track positions at U.S. universities and colleges, who have held their graduate degrees for fewer than five years at the time of application.

Rutland in The Conversation: One Likely Winner of the World Cup? Putin.

Peter Rutland

Peter Rutland

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, Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, writes about the FIFA World Cup being hosted by Russia. Though Russia’s team is not expected to perform very well, he writes, leader Vladimir Putin understands the power of sports to “foment feelings of national pride” and boost his own popularity among the Russian people. Rutland is also professor of government; professor of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies; tutor in the College of Social Studies; and director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life.

One likely winner of the World Cup? Putin

Half a million soccer fans will head to Russia to watch their national teams compete in the FIFA World Cup. Billions more around the world will watch on television. Brazil and Germany are favorites to win the trophy.

But we already know one person who will emerge as a winner: Vladimir Putin.

No one is expecting the Russian team to do very well in the tournament. FIFA’s official rankings place Russia 70th in the world – the team’s worst ever rating, and a precipitous fall from the 24th place it enjoyed as recently as 2015. Soccer is nevertheless a popular spectator sport in Russia, where sport and nationalism are closely intertwined.

As editor of Nationalities Papers, the journal of the Association for Study of Nationalities, I find that our most-read articles are often those involving soccer, a sport that can serve as a focal point for nationalist mobilization.

Putin seems to understand the ability of sport to foment feelings of national pride – and, in turn, has repeatedly used sporting events to enhance his popular standing at home.

Putin’s pet project

In 2010 Moscow won its bid to host the 2018 Cup, a successful pitch that was very much Putin’s personal project. He even traveled to Zurich and gave an emotional speech thanking FIFA for the honor. A few years later, corruption scandals brought down most of the FIFA board that had made this decision.

But by then, the decision had been finalized: Putin was set to be the first autocrat to host the World Cup since Argentina’s military junta in 1978.

Of course, this was before Putin’s controversial return to the presidency in 2012, and before the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Now, as the World Cup begins, Russia’s standing in the world is at an all-time low.

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 Washington Post: “Our Graduates Should Answer Cynicism and Insults with Inquiry and Reflection”

In this op-ed, President Michael S. Roth ’78 expresses his hope that this year’s graduates will feel empowered, and their capacity for inquiry, compromise, and reflection will be enhanced by their college educations.

2. The New York Times: “Eleanor Roosevelt’s Love Life, as Fodder for Fiction”

“[Amy] Bloom’s [’75] lyrical novel, laced with her characteristic wit and wisdom, celebrates love in its fiery and also embered phases,” according to this positive review of Bloom’s newest book, White Houses. Bloom is the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan.

3. Be the Change Venture: “Makaela Trains Leaders to Change the World. This is How.”

Makaela Kingsley ’98, director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, is interviewed about her career path, her goals for the future, and lessons she’s learned along the way.

4. Yahoo! News: “Generation Z Opens Up about the Refugee Crisis”

Ahmed Badr ’20 is interviewed about his experience as a young refugee from Iraq living in the United States. Badr has traveled the world telling his story and runs a project promoting youth storytelling as a means of self-empowerment.

5. American Museum of Natural History Podcast: “Visualizing Planets with Radio Telescopes with Meredith Hughes”

Meredith Hughes talks about how we understand planet formation, and how the relatively new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is “revolutionizing our view” of planet formation.

6. The New York Times: “Do You Know What Lightning Really Looks Like?”

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker discusses the history of artists and scientists “pitting their fields against one another,” dating back to the emergence of meteorology as a scientific discipline in the 19th century. Tucker is also chair and associate professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; associate professor of science in society; and associate professor of environmental studies.

Recent Alumni News

  1. The Wrap: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s [’02] ‘In The Heights’ Set for Summer 2020 Release

    “Warner Bros. announced on Thursday that it will release the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical “In The Heights” on June 26, 2020.” This is the musical Miranda began writing as a Wesleyan undergrad.

2. Berkeley Lab: Steve Kevan [’76] Named Next Director of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source

“After an international search, Stephen D. ‘Steve’ Kevan has been named the new director of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The ALS produces extremely bright X-ray, infrared, and extreme ultraviolet light for more than 2,000 visiting scientists each year.”

3. Boston GlobeBoston Will Be the Hub of the Biotech Universe Starting Monday; quotes Amy Schulman ’82, P’11 and mentions Agios (David Schenkein ’79, P’08 is CEO)

The article, anticipating the annual early June Biotechnology Innovation Organization convention in Boston, included a quote from Amy Schulman, a partner in the venture capital firm Polaris Partners and CEO of the Watertown-based start-up Lyndra Inc. She spoke to the need for greater diversity in the biotech industry: “Study after study shows that when you have diverse people—people with different perspectives, styles, genders, ethnicities, and orientations—then you have better conversations that translate into better outcomes,” she said. “It’s really important.”

4. NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!: “Not My Job: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper [’74, MA ’80, Hon. ’10] Gets Quizzed on 2020”

In this NPR show, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is asked introductory questions (“So we researched this—you are the first brewer to be elected to office, elected to be governor, since Sam Adams. You know that?”) that also flirt with his potential interest in running for president in the 2020 election. He is then invited to play a three-question quiz to win a prize for a listener.

5. AdLibbing: Badass Working Moms to Inspire You This Mother’s Day; includes Bozoma Saint John ’99

Profiled as one of “five mothers who are changing the world,” Bozoma Saint John was noted for “her illustrious career, in addition to raising her now 8-year-old daughter, Lael.”

 

 

Cassidy, Veteran Posse Students View Newest Film by Junger ’84

On May 22, 2018, aboard the aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid (now a National Historic Landmark), Retired Officer Teaching Fellow Robert Cassidy (third from left, blue jacket) and several members of the Wesleyan Veteran Posse, along with two students from Cassidy’s class, enjoyed a screening of Going to War. This documentary film, for which Sebastian Junger ’84 served as co-executive producer, explores the experience of serving in the military during war through interviews with veterans. Junger (third from right; back row, suit jacket) took questions from the audience—including the Posse group—and met with the Wesleyan contingent separately, posing for this photo. “Michael Freiburger ’21, one of our Posse veteran students asked Junger, ‘How do we find better ways to communicate who we are and what we feel about having been at war?’” recalls Cassidy. “I think there was a mutual respect between the veterans and Junger, who spent almost a year in the Korengal Valley, a very rough place in Afghanistan.” Some of the Posse veterans who attended hope to plan more events next year to explore this question further, in order to cultivate a shared understanding among traditional Wesleyan students and Wesleyan’s veteran students. (Photo courtesy Robert Cassidy)

 

Ulysse Commissioned to Create Work for British Museum

Gina Athena Ulysse.(Photo by Lucy Guiliano)

Gina Athena Ulysse. (Photo by Lucy Guiliano)

In response to an exhibit focusing on the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology, presented a commissioned work on March 16 at the British Museum.

The exhibit, titled “A revolutionary legacy: Haiti and Toussaint Louverture,” featured a selection of objects, artworks, and poetry from the 18th century to the present. Objects explored the legacy of the Haitian Revolution and its leader Toussaint Louverture. Louverture was one of the leading figures in the Haitian Revolution, which began in 1791 as an uprising of enslaved men and women in what was then a French sugar colony. It culminated with the outlawing of slavery there and the establishment of the Republic of Haiti.

Ulysse, a Haitian-born artist-anthropologist, presented a multivocal remix of words (archival and oral history, poetry, personal narrative) titled “Remixed ode to rebel’s spirit: lyrical meditations on Haiti and Toussaint Louverture.” Her response is online here.

Ulysse’s audio accompaniment also includes a contemporary juxtaposition of Vodou chant with words of anti-imperial protest. While the U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, a religion practiced by people in the African diaspora was suppressed. During the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Vodou helped unite communities and helped enslaved people to organize themselves against injustice.

11 Faculty Promoted, 3 Receive Tenure

Roger Grant, associate professor of music; Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychology. and Marcela Oteíza, associate professor of dance received tenure, effective July 1.

Roger Grant, associate professor of music; Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychology; and Marcela Oteíza, associate professor of theater, recently received tenure.

In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure to three faculty members, effective July 1: Roger Grant, associate professor of music; Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychology; and Marcela Oteíza, associate professor of theater. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, eight faculty members are being promoted: Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice in earth and environmental sciences; Erik Grimmer-Solem, professor of history; Katherine Kuenzli, professor of art history; Joyce Ann Powzyk, associate professor of the practice in biology; Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, professor of psychology; Charles Sanislow, professor of psychology; Patrick Tynan, adjunct professor of physical education; and Tiphanie Yanique, professor of English.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Kim Diver
Diver is an expert in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) whose research focuses on island biogeography. She promotes the use of GIS and other geospatial data analysis and visualization across the curriculum by providing GIS consulting to faculty, as well as a WesGIS workshop series. She has partnered with many local community groups to offer a GIS Service-Learning Laboratory course that allows students to apply GIS concepts and skills to solve tangible problems in the surrounding community. In addition to this service-learning lab, she offers courses on Introduction to (Geo)Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization; Introduction to GIS; and Advanced GIS and Spatial Analysis.

Krishnan Debuts Choreography at UC Davis, Jacob’s Pillow

“16 Shades of Red,” a full-length choreography created by Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance, premiered at the Mondavi Center at the University of California, Davis, on May 12 and 13. Krishnan is a member of inDANCE, one of Canada’s most progressive dance companies. “16 Shades of Red,” presented in two chapters, integrates original courtesan dance from South India, complex choreography, and live music.

Watch a video of his performance below:

YouTube Preview Image

At Wesleyan, Krishnan teaches Bharata Natyam, or South Indian classical dance.

“BN1 and BN3 students had performed material this semester at Wesleyan so incredibly well, and it was a crucial layer to building this new work,” Krishnan said. “I truly appreciate my job at Wesleyan where pedagogy and choreography are inextricably intertwined.”

In addition, Krishnan served as a Pillow Scholar-in-Residence June 20–24 at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Mass. On June 22, he debuted his solo choreography “Black Box 3,” which showcases virtuosic Bharatanatyam technique. The work features complex footwork, intricate gestures, architectural design, and a pulsating sound design of Indian, global percussion, and vocalized drum syllables.

 

Sultan Delivers Lectures around the World

Sonia Sultan, right, is presented with a plaque by Ellen Harrison, wife of the influential biologist Rick Harrison after whom the Harrison Keynote Lecture is named. Sultan presented the lecture at Cornell's annual Evo Day symposium in May.

Sonia Sultan, right, receives a plaque from Ellen Harrison, wife of the influential biologist Rick Harrison after whom the Harrison Keynote Lecture is named. Sultan presented the lecture at Cornell’s annual Evo Day symposium in May.

This spring, Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, has delivered several notable invited talks in different parts of the world.

In February, she presented the annual Darwin Day talk at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Sultan was the first woman scientist to present this prestigious lecture, in which a prominent evolutionary biologist shares their research and its broader implications. Sultan spoke on “Eco-Devo Insights to Evolutionary Questions,” using results from her Wesleyan lab’s plant research to address basic questions about individual development, inheritance, and adaptation. She was also interviewed about her contributions to current evolutionary biology for the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine podcast, Naturally Speaking.

In April, Sultan also gave a research seminar in Mexico City at the National University of Mexico’s Institute for Ecology, and in March, she presented her work to philosophers of biology at a European Union–sponsored conference in London.

Finally, on May 10, Sultan delivered the Harrison Keynote Lecture at Cornell’s annual “Evo Day” evolutionary biology symposium. The lecture is named in honor of Rick Harrison, an influential and much admired evolutionary biologist who served on the Cornell faculty until his death in 2016. Sultan’s next speaking event will be to give the closing lecture at a September meeting on “Advances in Evolutionary Biology” at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany.

Dombrowski, Saaka, Taylor Receive Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching

President Michael Roth with Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching honorees Lisa Dombrowski ’92 and Erika Taylor. Honoree Iddrisu Saaka is not pictured.

During Wesleyan’s 186th commencement ceremony on May 27, Wesleyan presented outstanding teachers with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, as well as current juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year, Wesleyan honored the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:

Lisa Dombrowski
Lisa Dombrowski ’92, associate professor of film studies, has been a member of Wesleyan’s faculty since 2001. She teaches in the College of Film and the Moving Image and is a core member of the College of East Asian Studies. She earned her BA in film studies and American studies at Wesleyan in 1992 and went on to receive an MA and PhD in film studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dombrowski is the author of The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You! and the editor of Kazan Revisited. She has written for The New York Times, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Film History, and the Criterion Collection, among others. Her research is concerned with the art and business of cinema, especially post-WWII film form and modes of production. Her teaching focuses on film history, the industry, and aesthetics in international art cinema, East Asian cinema, American independent cinema, and melodrama and the woman’s picture. Dombrowski is currently completing a book on director, screenwriter, and producer Robert Altman and American independent cinema in the 1990s and 2000s.

Iddrisu Saaka

Iddrisu Saaka (Photo by Perceptions Photography)

Iddrisu Saaka (unable to attend the ceremony)
Iddrisu “Iddi” Saaka, artist-in-residence in dance, has taught at Wesleyan since 2008. He earned a diploma in dance from the University of Ghana and an MFA in dance from UCLA. A dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer from Ghana, West Africa, Saaka has choreographed and performed at the World Festival of Sacred Music, the International Festival of Masks, the Skirball Center, Royce Hall, the Fowler Museum, Dance Arts Academy, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, El Portal Forum Theatre, and the Music Center in Los Angeles. At Wesleyan, he teaches courses in West African dance and also directs the West African Drumming and Dance Concert at the end of each semester. He has served as a visiting instructor of dance at UCLA, University of California San Diego, and the University of Ghana.

Erika Taylor
Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, environmental studies, and integrative sciences, joined the Wesleyan faculty in 2007. She holds a BS in chemistry with honors from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was also a postdoctoral research associate at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Throughout her career, Taylor has worked at the interface of chemistry and biology where she strives to find ways to exploit enzymes found in nature to perform chemistry that can help advance the fields of chemistry and medicine. She also employs chemical synthesis to help answer questions of both biological and medical interest. At Wesleyan, her research has focused on the identification and characterization of enzymes that are important for the development of antimicrobials for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infections—particularly bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli and V. cholerae. She also studies enzymes that can improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion, particularly the breakdown and bacterial utilization of lignin. She teaches courses in the areas of organic chemistry, biochemistry, environmental chemistry, and biomedicinal chemistry, among others.

View previous Binswanger recipients online here.

Wesleyan-Led Astronomy Consortium Joins Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which operates the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), and other major astronomical research facilities in the United States, has elected the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC)—led by Wesleyan University—as a new member. This historic development represents the first time that liberal arts institutions have been invited to join the association and serves as an important recognition of the value of such programs, not just to education, but also to frontier research in astronomy.

Seth Redfield, campus director of the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium, reports that several students and faculty have recently been awarded grants for their research in astronomy. Photo c/o Redfield

Seth Redfield

“This is a tremendous recognition of the important impact that the Keck Consortium and our individual institutions have on the astronomy research landscape, and it literally gives us a seat at the table in terms of influencing the future of astronomy in the United States,” says Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy at Wesleyan. “This is a validation of our impact in research and preparing future generations of astronomers (many of whom go on to PhD programs or postdocs or faculty positions at the large research institutions already on the board of AURA),” Redfield adds. “We are thrilled to have a voice from smaller institutions in shaping the future of our field.”