Students

Scholar-Athletes, Seniors Honored for 2019–20 Accomplishments

On May 21, the Wesleyan University Athletic Department hosted a virtual event to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of scholar-athletes. The ceremony combined the annual Scholar-Athlete Banquet with the end-of-the-year Senior Awards presentations.

Maynard awardIt was hosted by Director of Athletics Mike Whalen ’83 and featured remarks from President Michael Roth ’78. Several coaches presented individual awards to the student-athletes.

Hockey goalie Tim Sestak ’20 and women’s soccer defender Mackenzie Mitchell ’20 were the recipients of the Roger Maynard Memorial Awards, which are presented annually to the Wesleyan male and female scholar-athlete who best exemplifies the spirit, accomplishments, and humility of Roger Maynard ’37 (established by the family of Roger Maynard, a former Wesleyan trustee who lettered in cross-country and track.)

In addition to winning the prestigious Maynard Awards, Sestak and Mitchell were also chosen by the Department as the two scholar-athlete speakers, an annual tradition of the Scholar-Athlete Banquet.

Wesleyan Hosts 188th (and First Virtual) Commencement


On Sunday, May 24, for the first time in its history, Wesleyan University held its Commencement virtually, awarding 771 Bachelor of Arts, 3 Bachelor of Liberal Studies, 4 Bachelor of Arts on completion, 36 Master of Arts, 19 Master of Liberal Studies, 1 Master of Philosophy, and 10 Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Streamed on both the Wesleyan website (on the Commencement 2020 page) and on the Wesleyan University Facebook page, the ceremony—the University’s 188th—saw more than 3,000 family, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni gather together online for a common moment in celebration of the members of the Class of 2020. Graduates had just completed one of the more unusual and challenging semesters in recent memory as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the University moved to a distance learning model to ensure student and community safety.

President Michael Roth ’78 delivered a live welcome address from the Wesleyan campus.

The virtual proceedings were led by President Michael Roth ’78. In his welcome address, President Roth said, “Class of 2020, we have already seen what you are capable of when you have the freedom and the tools, the mentors and the friendships, the insight and the affection to go beyond what others have defined as your limits.

Students Honored with 2019–20 Prizes, Fellowships, Scholarships

monogramOn May 22, the Office of Student Affairs announced the names of students who received academic or leadership prizes, fellowships, and scholarships in 2019–20.

More than 300 students and recent alumni received one of the University’s 180 prizes. (View the list below or on the Student Affairs website.)

Scholarships, fellowships, and leadership prizes are granted to students and student organizations based on criteria established for each prize or award. Certain University prizes are administered by the Student Affairs/Deans’ Office, while others are administered by the Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD).

Wesleyan Awards 2020 Hamilton Prize for Creativity

HamPrize2020_Winner_Brianna Johnson

Brianna Johnson ’24 is the recipient of the Hamilton Prize for Creativity which comes with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Wesleyan.

For the fourth consecutive year, Wesleyan has awarded its prestigious Hamilton Prize for Creativity to three students whose creative written works best reflect the originality, artistry, and dynamism of Hamilton: An American Musical, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 and directed by Thomas Kail ’99.

Brianna Johnson of The Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, N.Y. was awarded the grand prize—a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Wesleyan. She was recognized for three songs comprising an album/mixtape titled, “Tell ‘Em The Truth.” In addition, Wesleyan awarded two honorable mentions along with $5,000 stipends to Luka Netzel of Kansas City, Mo. (The Pembroke Hill School) for his musical, “Heartful Dodgers,” and Chiara Kaufman of Rye, N.Y. (Hackley School) for two works of flash-fiction, titled “The Maid” and “The Burials.”

The winning works were chosen from a pool of over 400 submissions this year. Faculty members reviewed entries, while an all-star selection committee of Wesleyan alumni in the arts, chaired by Miranda and Kail, judged finalists.

About the Honorees

Johnson was honored for “Tell ‘Em The Truth,” an album/mixtape comprised of three songs: “Dreams to Reality,” “These Chains,” and “Damages of Duality.” She wrote these songs, among several others, in 8th and 9th grades as she struggled to acclimate to a predominantly white school as one of the only black students in her classes. Around the same time, the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man, by a white police officer, and many other senseless killings of black people left her feeling scared and resentful.

“My own America wanted to eradicate me, dehumanize me, make me feel like I was nothing. I was a blank corpse with no identity, no face and in America, no voice,” she wrote in her submission for the Hamilton Prize. “I wanted to change that and so I traded in my anger and disappointment for a pen and paper. I transcribed my emotions into lyrics.”

“When experiencing Brianna’s work, I was struck by the honesty, perspective and structure already present in what she’s creating,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, ’02. “I’m so glad that she’s chosen Wesleyan as the place to continue developing her artistic talents. I look forward to following her artistic journey.”

Committee member and actress Beanie Feldstein ’15 called Johnson’s work a “powerful, moving example of infusing one’s own life-experience into art,” with Johnson putting “her whole being into each lyric, each melody, each performance. […] Her work is wholly raw, vulnerable and masterful. In addition, her art displays radiant strength and an essential commitment to morality that is inspirational. I was rapt and enthralled. It is the work of a young artist you know will do great things and help heal our society.”

Luka Netzel

Luka Netzel ’24

Netzel received an honorable mention for his musical, “Heartful Dodgers.” Set in Cleveland, Ohio in 1969, the play follows twins Barry and Fitz who decide to dodge the draft by joining a nearby Amish community after they are conscripted to serve in the Vietnam War. There, they meet Sarah Ann, daughter of the town’s Minister, who longs to experience the world outside the Amish community.

Author Mary Roach ’81 said she had a “big goofy grin on my face” while reading “Heartful Dodgers.”

“Everything about this piece is fresh, pitch-perfect, professional. Luka has so expertly and lovingly nailed the classical musical genre—the stage directions, the characters’ moves and their back-and-forth singing. And the lyrics! Hilarious and charming. I could see and hear Luka’s vision so clearly in my head as I read. I expect to one day be seeing some of that same creative vision on a Broadway stage.”

Kaufman

Chiara Kaufman ’24

And Kaufman received an honorable mention for two works of flash-fiction. “The Maid” is a stream-of-consciousness narrative from a distressed woman, a wife and mother contemplating a grim future. Committee member Carter Bays ’97, executive producer and writer of How I Met Your Mother, said “The Maid” “captured the mature, complicated voice of a character that I can’t imagine a teenager being able to access.” Kaufman’s other piece, “The Burials,” tells the story of a family, generation after generation, with a dark, secret history.

About the Hamilton Prize

The Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity was established in 2016 in honor of Miranda and Kail’s contributions to liberal education and the arts and named for the pair’s hit Broadway musical, which that year won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score. A filmed version of Hamilton will be released on Disney Plus beginning July 3.

Over the past four years, about 2,000 students have submitted stories, poetry, songs, plays, and screenplays for consideration for the prize. Read about past winners in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Learn more about the Hamilton Prize.

Students Pitch Social Benefit Business Ideas

Be Better

Blake Northrop ’22, won the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition on May 5 with his venture, Be Better, a clothing brand focused on producing sustainable products.

A clothing brand that promotes education and discussion of mental health and wellness is the winner of the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition sponsored by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Created by Blake Northrop ’22, Be Better consists of the clothing brand itself—which highly values customer participation and artist collaboration—as well as an online community forum for followers and members to connect, discuss, and share their stories about mental health.

On May 5, Northrop and more than dozen other aspiring student entrepreneurs pitched their social benefit business ideas. Watch a recording of the Pitch Night online here.

Theater Department Produces, Livestreams The Method Gun

method gun

The cast and crew of the Theater Department’s production of The Method Gun answered questions from the public following their livestreamed performance on May 2. Speaking (highlighted in yellow) is the show’s director Katie Pearl, assistant director of theater.

The shows must go on.

Rather than allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to force a final curtain call on theatrical productions, Wesleyan’s Theater Department pivoted to an online format. On May 1, and again on May 2, the department offered livestreamed performances of The Method Gun, featuring 10 student-actors.

A replay of the Saturday performance is available for viewing on The Method Gun @ Wes website.

After countless hours of line rehearsals, overcoming technical frustrations, and learning how to act and teach theater in a virtual world, show director and Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl breathed a sigh of relief during the Thursday night dress rehearsal.

“I almost can’t believe what we pulled off,” Pearl said. “It was super down-to-the-wire. We were cutting and rewriting scenes up until the last minute and wrestling with livestreaming software, but it all came together on Thursday. For the first time, it really worked. And all of us just wept afterwards. Because we’d made a thing. We’d transcended what felt like an impossible situation, and stayed committed to each other and the process to create something that really meant what we wanted it to mean.”

Wesleyan Student Assembly Commends Faculty on Distance Learning Efforts

wes fest andy

After the Wesleyan Student Assembly commended Wesleyan faculty for their efforts transitioning to distance learning, Andy Szegedy-Maszak, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, penned a responding resolution, expressing gratitude to the students.

When President Michael Roth announced in mid-March that Wesleyan would suspend in-person classes for the remainder of the spring semester because of the increasing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty had less than two weeks to prepare their courses for distance learning before classes resumed after spring break. Trying to recreate the immersive Wesleyan classroom experience in a digital format presented a variety of challenges, particularly for faculty who had never taught online previously.

It’s become clear over the last month that faculty have been able to rise to those challenges, and the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) formally recognized their efforts on April 19 with the unanimous passage of a resolution “Commending the Wesleyan Faculty for their Efforts in the Transition Towards Distance Learning.” Chair Jake Kwon ’21 and vice-chair Ben Garfield ’22 of the WSA’s Academic Affairs Committee sponsored the resolution in order to recognize the faculty’s hard work and advocacy for students.

“Faculty are going through a lot of similar extenuating circumstances as students are” in transitioning to distance learning, said Kwon. “This has definitely proven difficult, and I wanted to make sure that the faculty knew how appreciative the students were of their efforts, and that in fact they are not unnoticed.”

The resolution recognizes “the faculty’s efforts to maintain the integrity of Wesleyan’s liberal arts education.” It expresses appreciation for “the empathetic faculty who have provided accommodations for students encountering various challenges surrounding the transition to distance learning and the determined professors who aim to continue providing learning opportunities while being conscious of the various potential stressors that could befall the student body and seek to alleviate additional stress from academic work.”

Kwon noted that while the WSA has passed resolutions in solidarity with many groups on campus, “I do not think we have addressed the entire faculty before in a resolution.”

“Many of my professors have been very understanding about deadlines, and many prioritize student health over academia, which I am so thankful for,” Kwon said of his personal experience with the transition to distance learning. “Some have changed testing formats to accommodate online learning, and many professors had to change their entire course design to allow students to learn at home. For me, I have been fortunate to remain healthy amid the crisis, so I have been able to focus on academia, but it is nice to know that I have a safety net to fall onto if I ever get sick as we finish off the semester.”

Faculty have responded to the resolution with deep gratitude. Sean McCann, chair of the faculty, said that at their next meeting on May 20, faculty leadership plans to ask the faculty to endorse a responding resolution written by Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, Professor of Classical Studies. It states: “We, the Wesleyan faculty, collectively express our gratitude to you, our students. During the immense upheaval in all our lives and our difficult transition to online teaching and learning, you have been patient, thoughtful, good-humored, and responsive. We deeply appreciate your good will and engagement, and we will do our best to ensure that you continue to get the excellent education you deserve.”

“Personally, I was deeply touched by the WSA resolution, and I know many other Wes faculty were as well,” said McCann. “It was such a very kind and thoughtful thing to do.

“In general, I think many of us have found teaching-by-Zoom a trying experience, and a pale substitute for in-person learning. But I’ve also just been very grateful for the opportunity to work with students, even if virtually. Seeing them pop up on the computer screen is one of the best parts of my day and always a mood lifter—very welcome indeed in a time that can seem so bleak and isolating.”

Bill Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History and academic secretary, echoed this sentiment. “I tell my students that my meetings with them are the highlights of my week, and I really mean that. Many write to say that they do find the virtual classes challenging, but I very much appreciate the efforts they are making to learn through Zoom meetings, emailed papers, and Moodle posts. Not perfect, but it is working.”

McCann noted that the faculty will also be expressing their gratitude to staff, administrators, and librarians through a tandem resolution.

Ngodup ’20, Joshi ’20, Khun ’20 Inducted Into ASBMB Honor Society

For demonstrating exceptional achievement in academics, undergraduate research, and science outreach, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology inducted Tenzin Ngodup ’20, Meera Joshi ’20, and Charya Khun ’20 into the ASBMB Honor Society, ΧΩΛ.

ΧΩΛ recognizes exceptional undergraduate juniors and seniors pursuing degrees in the molecular life sciences at colleges or universities. To be eligible, undergraduate nominees must be members of an ASBMB student chapter, and maintain a minimum of a 3.4 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

Nominations may be submitted by either a faculty ASBMB member or by the student member.

Ngodup, Joshi, and Khun are among only 56 students from around the country who were inducted into the honor society in 2020. All three are members of the Mukerji Lab, which is managed by Ishita Mukerji, Fisk Professor of Natural Science and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

The Mukerji Lab research uses spectroscopic tools to investigate challenging problems in biology by exploring the structure-function relationship of biomolecules.

Wesleyan Investment Group Takes 1st Place in Adirondack Cup

Adirondack Cup 2020

The Wesleyan Investment Group outperformed the Russel 2000 index with a portfolio return of 44% higher than their market benchmark. The team won The Adirondack Cup based on receiving the highest return on their initial investment.

The student-run Wesleyan Investment Group (WIG) is celebrating a first-place victory in a six-month-long collegiate investment contest that concluded April 9.

Despite the COVID-19 epidemic’s detrimental impact to the stock market, WIG managed to garner a 27.04% return in the 2019–20 Adirondack Cup, a stock-picking contest sponsored by the advisor to The Adirondack Small Cap Fund (ADKSX). Wesleyan competed against 22 other institutions in New England and New York.

Each student team managed a hypothetical $1 million portfolio consisting of five small cap equities. Team members studied the performance of more than 100 businesses and predicted which ones would perform the best between October 2019 and April 2020. To encourage a long-term focus, teams are only allowed to change their portfolio once during the competition.

Vizgan ’21 Honored with Chambliss Medal by American Astronomical Society

David Vizgan '21 was awarded a Chambliss Medal by the American Astronomical Society for his poster presentation at the January meeting.

David Vizgan ’21 was awarded a Chambliss Medal by the American Astronomical Society.

Astronomy and Physics major David Vizgan ’21 has expanded his interest of astrophysics to the far corners of the universe.

By using emissions of a “forbidden” line of ionized carbon [CII] in simulated galaxies, he’s trying to measure mass and other physical properties of young galaxies over 12.7 billion light years away which populated the universe shortly after the universe’s “dark ages”.

For his outstanding research poster presentation on the subject at the most recent American Astronomical Society meeting, David Vizgan ’21 received a Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award.

Vizgan is one of 15 undergraduates students (out of 355 total entrants) to be honored with a Chambliss medal or certificate. The poster presentations were made during the 235th AAS meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan. 4–8.

At the meeting, Vizgan presented the research he began in summer 2019 at the Cosmic Dawn Center (DAWN) in Copenhagen as part of a NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates. He’s continued this study since returning last August.

Vizgan also is interested in determining the evolution of galaxies from looking at them at different redshift, or distance away from us measured by wavelengths. Galaxies at high-redshift are some of the youngest objects in the universe.