Top Story

Enrollment in Wesleyan MOOCs Surpasses 1 Million

Wesleyan, which was the first small liberal arts college focused on the undergraduate experience to offer MOOCs through Coursera, now has more than 1 million students enrolled in its courses.

Wesleyan, which was the first small liberal arts college focused on the undergraduate experience to offer MOOCs through Coursera, now has more than 1 million students enrolled in its courses.

Total enrollment in Wesleyan’s massive open online courses (MOOCs) recently surpassed 1 million students, as Wesleyan professors prepare to offer a new run of two film courses through Coursera in the coming months.

According to Jennifer Curran, director of continuing studies and Graduate Liberal Studies, enrollment is poised to continue growing in the lead-up to The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color, taught by Scott Higgins, associate professor and chair of film studies, beginning Feb. 2, and Marriage and the Movies: A History, taught by Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, curator of the Cinema Archives, beginning May 18. A third course, Property and Liability: An Introduction to Law and Economics, taught by Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, is now being offered on-demand, meaning students can start and progress through the course on their own schedule. Additional courses are being converted to the on-demand format and will be available in the coming months.

Israeli ’17 Speaks at Awards Gala Hosted by the Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights

Ella Israeli '17 mingled with entertainer/philanthropist Robert De Niro at the Ripple of Hope Gala and Awards Dinner, held Dec. 16 in New York City.  The event was supported by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Ella Israeli ’17 mingled with entertainer/philanthropist Robert De Niro at the Ripple of Hope Gala and Awards Dinner, held Dec. 16 in New York City.

Two Wesleyan students and two alumni participated in the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Ripple of Hope Gala and Awards Dinner in New York City in December.

Ella Israeli '17, Kennedy Odede '12 and Kiley Kennedy '16 shared a group hug at the Ripple of Hope Gala. 

Ella Israeli ’17, Kennedy Odede ’12 and Kiley Kennedy ’16 shared a group hug at the Ripple of Hope Gala.

During the event, Ripple Awards were presented to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, entertainers/ philanthropists Robert De Niro and Tony Bennett, and Physicians Interactive Chairman Donato Tramuto.

Ella Israeli ’17, a government major minoring in film studies film studies, was chosen to introduce New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who presented the Ripple of Hope Award to De Niro. Israeli also spoke about her involvement in the Center’s high school curriculum participation in the center’s film contest. Her speech is online here.

Kennedy Odede ’12, founder of Shining Hope for Communities, was honored as a defender of human rights. Kiley Kennedy ’16 and Edward “Ted” Kennedy Jr. ’83, P’16 also attended the event.

View Israeli’s website, with links to her videos, here.

Johnson-Thornton is the New Dean for Equity and Inclusion

Renee Johnson-Thornton, dean for equity and inclusion.

Renee Johnson-Thornton, dean for equity and inclusion, is exploring ways to better understand the experiences students have that interfere with success and wellbeing. She has a deep commitment to social and environmental justice, conservation and environmental sustainability.

In this Q&A we speak with Renee Johnson-Thornton, dean for equity and inclusion.

Q: Renee, when did you come to Wesleyan and what was your first position? When did you join the Office of Equity and Inclusion?

A: I was hired in 1998 to be the associate director of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. The Office of Equity and Inclusion was established in 2013 following the hiring of Vice President Antonio Farias. Prior to his arrival, I served as dean for diversity and student engagement from 2009-2013, and the associate coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program from 2000-2013. I also have held the following positions at Wesleyan: assistant dean for student academic resources from 2005-2006, and assistant to the dean of the college from 2000-2005.

Q: How would you describe your role as the dean for equity and inclusion?

A: The dean for equity and inclusion promotes access, education and compliance through collaboration with students, faculty, staff and alumni that engage the campus community in developing all students’ capacity to achieve at the highest level.

Miranda ’02, Tatum ’75, Price to be Honorary Degree Recipients at Wesleyan’s 183rd Commencement

Wesleyan will honor three remarkable leaders in their fields with honorary degrees at the university’s 183rd Commencement on May 24, 2015. Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, an award-winning composer, lyricist, writer and actor, will present the Commencement Address. Wesleyan also will award honorary degrees to Beverly Daniel Tatum ’75, president of Spelman College and an expert in race relations and higher education, and Michael Price, the longtime executive director of Goodspeed Musicals.

Lin-Manuel Miranda '02 (Photo courtesy of

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 (Photo courtesy of

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02
Lin-Manuel Miranda is the Tony and Grammy-winning composer-lyricist of Broadway’s In the Heights, which received four 2008 Tony Awards, with Miranda receiving a Tony Award for Best Score, and a nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. In The Heights was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show’s first incarnation was staged at the ’92 Theater at Wesleyan in 2000. Miranda is also the co-composer/co-lyricist of Broadway’s Bring it On: The Musical, which received a 2013 Tony nomination for Best Musical. His latest stage work is Hamilton, a musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, which had its world premiere at the Public Theater in New York City in 2015.

Along with composer Tom Kitt, Miranda won the 2014 Creative Arts Emmy

Handler ’92 (AKA Lemony Snicket) Kicks off 2015 Russell House Series

Daniel Handler '92 (Photo by Meredith Heuer)

Daniel Handler ’92 (Photo by Meredith Heuer)

Bestselling author Daniel Handler ’92 will read from his new work Feb. 5 while launching the Spring 2015 Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. The series is sponsored by Writing at Wesleyan.

Handler’s newest novel is the highly-anticipated We Are Pirates, which Bloomsbury will publish in February 2015 and Neil Gaiman describes as “honest and funny, dark and painful.” He is also the author of the novels The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, Adverbs, and, with Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up, which won the Michael J. Printz Honor. His criticism has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Believer.

As Lemony Snicket, he has written the best-selling series All The Wrong Questions as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events, which has sold more than 60 million copies.

Everett ’15 Co-Authors Paper Published in Nature Communications

Holly Everett '15

Holly Everett ’15

A paper co-authored by molecular biology and biochemistry major Holly Everett ’15 is published in the December 2014 issue of Nature Communications. The article, titled “High-throughput detection of miRNAs and gene-specific mRNA at the single-cell level by flow cytometry,” describes a novel approach to visualizing RNA and protein simultaneously at the single cell level.

Everett has been working on the accompanying research at the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.

This new technology uses gene-specific probes and a signal amplification system based on a “branched DNA” principle. The authors show that this novel flow-FISH (for “Fluorescent in situ hybridization”) technique is sensitive, specific and can be multiplexed with simultaneous detection of three different gene-specific RNAs. The results further demonstrate their ability to measure expression of genes critical for immune cells, such as cytokines, in white blood cells specifically targeting the HIV or CMV viruses. The authors also demonstrate the capacity to detect mRNAs for which flow antibodies against the corresponding proteins are poor or are not available. Read more about the study online here.

Everett, who is completing her degree in three years, worked on this study between her sophomore and senior (gap) year, starting in 2013. She hopes to continue this research next year at a HIV and TB research institute in Durban, South Africa.

Everett’s advisor is Don Oliver, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology.

Samy ’18 Begins Collegiate Squash Career with 12-0 Record

Egypt native Laila Samy '18 says she chose Wesleyan because "the squash team .. was not just a team, it was a family."

Egypt native Laila Samy ’18 says she chose Wesleyan because “the squash team .. was not just a team, it was a family.”

In this Q&A meet Laila Samy from the Class of 2018.

Q: You came to Wesleyan from your hometown of Cairo, Egypt. Can you describe your life growing up in a foreign country? What was your secondary-school education like?

A: Growing up in Egypt and going to school there made me feel very grateful because I had a great opportunity to both play squash and get a decent education which lead me to move on to the next experience which is completing my last two years of high school in the U.S. and that lead me to be able to attend Wesleyan.

Q: You have already established yourself as one of the top newcomers on the collegiate squash scene with a 12-0 record at No. 1 and a title in the Division III National Championships. When did you begin playing the sport and when did it become apparent you were far from a run-of-the-mill player?

A: I started playing squash when I

Willis’s Poem Published in The New Yorker

Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis

A poem by Elizabeth Willis, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, professor of English, is published in the Jan. 12 edition of The New Yorker.

Willis, a 2012-13 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Alive: New and Selected Poems, which will be published this spring. She is an expert on 20th century American poetry and poetics, poetry and visual culture, 19th century poetry and poetics, modernism, post-modernism, poetry and political history and the prose poem.

The published poem is titled “About the Author.”

Professor Emeritus Jason Wolfe Remembered for Mentoring, Cell Biology Research

Jason Wolfe

Jason Wolfe

Jason Wolfe, professor of biology emeritus, died Dec. 23 at the age of 73.

Wolfe joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1969 after receiving his BA from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and completing two post-doctoral fellowships at Kings College, University of London, and Johns Hopkins University. He taught cell biology, human biology, biology of aging and the elderly, and structural biology at Wesleyan for 39 years.

In his research, Wolfe asked big questions about how reproduction and aging are regulated. With funding from NIH and NSF, he produced a consistent and enviable body of work published in the major cell biology journals – always mentoring undergraduates and graduate students with great compassion and insight. He led the effort that resulted in Wesleyan’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant for Undergraduate Life Science Education, establishing a program that has provided decades of support for hundreds of undergraduates. In retirement, he twice offered his popular general education course in Human Biology and published his last Biology Open research paper in 2014 with four former Wesleyan undergraduate co-authors.

About 80 colleagues, friends and family gathered in the Daniel Family Commons April 26, 2009 celebrate Jason Wolfe's retirement. He taught biology at Wesleyan for 39 years. Pictured are former and current members of the Wolfe Lab. Front row, from left, are Emily Lu '00 and Vey Hadinoto '99. Back row, from left, are Aditi Khatri '11, Joan Bosco '09, Hyo Yang '12, Professor Wolfe, Carlo Balane '06 and Ivy Chen '09.

About 80 colleagues, friends and family gathered in the Daniel Family Commons April 26, 2009 celebrate Jason Wolfe’s retirement. He taught biology at Wesleyan for 39 years.

He brought his keen intellect and passion to the study and practice of Judaism. The scope of his activities extended from giving public lectures at the Center for the Humanities to service on the Wesleyan University Press Editorial Board to working with the Sierra Club in Arizona and New Mexico.

Jason is survived by his wife, Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of history, as well as three children and five grandchildren. Memorial contributions in his name may be made to Young Israel of West Hartford, 2240 Albany Avenue, West Hartford, CT, 06117. A memorial will be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 23 in Memorial Chapel.

Staff on the Move, November, December 2014

The Office of Human Resources reported the following new hires, transitions and departures for November and December 2014:

Newly hired
David Shimomura was hired as a program coordinator in the Center for the Arts on Nov. 3.

Fernando Vargas-Lara was hired as a post doctoral research associate in the Physics Department on Nov. 3.

Jayana Mitchell was hired as an accounting specialist in the Chemistry Department on Nov. 10.

Angela Wong was hired as a project manager in Physical Plant-Facilities on Dec. 1.

Jessie Cohen was hired as an archaeological collections manager in the Office of Academic Affairs on Dec. 1

Alexander Chremos was hired as a post-doctoral research associate in the Physics Department on Dec. 1.

Armando Ortiz was hired as a public safety officer in the Office of Public Safety on Dec. 8.

Joan Chiari was hired as an administrative assistant in the Office of Student Affairs/Deans’ Office.

Meg O’Brien, associate director of financial planning
Juliana Shortell, archaeological collections manager
Vinnie Agosta, desktop support specialist
Caitlyn DeClement, office assistant
William Fisher, manager of online and video communications
Mardi Hanson-d’Alessandro, library assistant
Beverly Hunter-Daniel, director of Upward Bound Math-Science and Collaborative Programs
Steven Farthing, social network web developer

Assistant Professor of American Studies Grappo ’01 Teaches Latino Studies, Queer Studies

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Q: Welcome back to Wesleyan, Professor Grappo! Can you please fill us in on what you’ve done since graduating from Wes?

A: After graduating from Wesleyan in 2001, I worked a fifth grade teacher at a Catholic school in the Bronx. Then I went to grad school at Yale and got my Ph.D. in American Studies. I took a job for a couple years as an assistant professor of American studies at Dickinson College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Last year, I came to Wesleyan as a visiting professor, and this year I began as a full-time, tenure-track professor.

Q: How does it feel to be back at Wesleyan?

A: I’m excited to be back. I had a wonderful experience here as an undergrad. It was really formative for me as a scholar and I made good friends and enjoyed many of the resources Wesleyan offers. When I saw there was a position open here, it seemed like a terrific opportunity, as not only is Wesleyan an incredible institution, but it’s also in a great area of the country, with so many excellent resources—other universities,

Fedolfi, Kini, Kaufman Receive Cardinal Achievement Awards


Charles Fedolfi '90

Charles Fedolfi ’90

The Office of Human Resources presented three Cardinal Achievement Awards to University Relations staff in December 2014.

Charles “Chuck” Fedolfi ’90, director of annual giving, was honored for his work on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 2, when the Wesleyan community joined together in an unprecedented show of support for students.  Led by Fedolfi, a team of colleagues and volunteers inspired alumni, parents, faculty and staff to make 2,059 gifts totaling over $500,000 – far exceeding the original goal of 1,000 gifts