Tag Archive for alumni achievements

3 Alumni Receive MacArthur “Genius” Awards 

MacArthursThree of the 26 “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals” to receive 2019 MacArthur Fellowships are Wesleyan alumni.

Mary Halvorson ’02, Saidiya Hartman ’84, Hon. ’19, and Cameron Rowland ’11 each received a $625,000, no-strings-attached award by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius” grant, are selected based on “exceptional creativity,” “promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments,” and “potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work,” according to the foundation.

They join 17 other Wesleyan alumni and university affiliates named MacArthur Fellow recipients. (View all.)

Mary Halvorson '02

Mary Halvorson ’02

Mary Halvorson ’02 is a guitarist, ensemble leader, and composer who is pushing against established musical categories with a singular sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves with each new album and configuration of bandmates. She melds her jazz roots with elements of experimental rock, folk, and other musical traditions, reflecting a wide range of stylistic influences.

Her additional albums as a solo performer or leader include Saturn Sings (2010), Bending Bridges (2012), Illusionary Sea (2014), and Meltframe (2015), and she has performed on numerous other recordings as a side musician or co-leader. Since 2018, Halvorson has served as an instructor at The New School’s College of Performing Arts. She has performed at such national and international venues and festivals as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Berlin Jazz Festival, and the Village Vanguard, among many others.

Blaine ’92 Brings One-Woman Show and Brain Surgery/Art Tour to Campus

On Sept. 25, Jennifer Blaine ’92 performed The Vicissitudes of Travel in Usdan 108.

Hosted by the neuroscience and pre-med students of the MINDS Foundation and the Basal Gang, The Vicissitudes bridges the gap between medical science, mental health, and performance art.

In the solo show performed by Blaine and co-written with Karen Getz, Blaine’s portrayals of each member of a family comes to life against the sparse set that invites the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Terrified by the idea of losing her brother, “Sister” goes on a journey through her brother’s brain surgery that blends visual art, memory, and tangled neurons in an attempt to connect with “Brother” before it’s too late.

During the post-performance discussion, Blaine and the students in the audience delved into the healing journey, the creative process, and the role of art in medicine.

“Every time I perform The Vicissitudes I am amazed at what it evokes for people. People enjoy a character, find themselves laughing one moment and the next are moved by a poignant revelation,” Blaine said. “As the creator and performer it’s both terrifying and exhilarating to perform the piece for new audiences since even I don’t know what will happen. We begin the journey as strangers, but by the end of the piece we have such a deeply bonded experience that segues into meaningful dialogue and sharing that’s unique to each particular group.”

At the Wesleyan performance, Blaine was particularly struck by the insightful line of questioning and sharing.

“Students’ questions about the text unearthed things I had never even thought about,” Blaine said. “One of the missions of the performance is to connect the invisible community affected by brain issues and create a way that we can be present, listen to one another, and have more compassion. I believe we achieved that. I hope this performance can be the beginning of a dialogue with the Wesleyan community about these issues.”

The event was coordinated by Kush Patel ’20 of Wesleyan MINDS, graduate student Helen Karimi from The Basal Gang, and Meg Zocco, director of parent development.

After performing at Wesleyan, Blaine will bring The Vicissitudes to Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, where she will also hold workshops for medical students.

Photos of the performance are below. (Photos by Tom Dzimian)

Jennifer Blane

Buchanan ’92 and Gordon ’89 Talk Effective Philanthropy at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore

On Sept. 24, Phil Buchanan '92 and Elysa Gordon '89 discussed Buchanan's new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count at Wesleyan's RJ Julia Bookstore.

On Sept. 24, Elysa Gordon ’89, left, and Phil Buchanan ’92, right, discussed Buchanan’s new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.

Buchanan '92 is the president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a leading provider of data on philanthropic effectiveness. He is a co-author of many CEP research reports, a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and a frequent blogger for the CEP Blog.

Buchanan ’92 is the president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a leading provider of data on philanthropic effectiveness. He is a co-author of many CEP research reports, a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and a frequent blogger for the CEP Blog. In 2016, Buchanan was named the NonProfit Times‘s “influencer of the year.”

4 Alumni Work to End Gun Violence Through Everytown

Rob Wilcox (Deputy Director of Policy and Strategy) Sam Levy (Counsel), John Feinblatt (President) and Nick Suplina (Managing Director of Law and Policy).

Four  Wesleyan alumni are helping drive policy and political efforts for the organization Everytown for Gun Safety. The alumni are, from left, Rob Wilcox ’01, deputy director of policy and strategy; Sam Levy ’04, counsel; John Feinblatt ’73, president; Nick Suplina ’00, managing director of law and policy.

Every day, 100 Americans are shot and killed and hundreds more are wounded as a result of gun violence. 

Through an organization called Everytown for Gun Safety, four Wesleyan alumni are working with lawmakers to pass common-sense laws and policies that build safer communities and save lives while still respecting the Second Amendment.

Everytown members research a range of vital issues surrounding gun violence and develop data-driven solutions. To date, Everytown has supported nearly six million mayors, mothers, police, teachers, survivors, gun owners, students, and everyday Americans to make their own communities safer.

Arevalo Mateus PhD ’13 Named Lead Scholar for NY State Archives Documentation Plan

Jorge Arévalo Mateus

Jorge Arévalo Mateus earned a PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan in 2013.

Jorge Arévalo Mateus PhD ’13 is a lead scholar on a developing plan for The New York State Archives. The plan will focus on the collection and preservation of, as well as accessibility to, records involving under-documented topics and communities.

Arévalo Mateus will guide the research process of the project, which will include surveys on collections and communities and regional meetings across the state. The project is one of the Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York (DHPSNY), a statewide program that supports a network of library and archival repositories that contain New York’s historical records and is in conversation with other collecting institutions in the state.

Connecticut Magazine Names Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18 in “40 Under 40”

Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18, a leader and community activist in her hometown of New Britain, was named one of Connecticut Magazine‘s “40 under 40.” (Photo courtesy of Alicia Strong)

Connecticut Magazine included Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18 in its 2019 list of “40 Under 40,” recognizing her leadership in community activism. “With her firm convictions, Strong lives up to her name,” the magazine wrote.

“I am honored to be included in Connecticut’s ’40 Under 40′ Class of 2019. It is truly a testament to my hard work and dedication,” Strong said.

At 21 years old, Strong became the youngest person nationally to be given the title of executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), where she worked for less than a year before leaving to pursue goals outside of educating the general public about Islam. After leaving the council, Strong started a social media marketing firm in New Britain to help small businesses.

Strong will soon begin graduate school at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.

Holtzberg ’79 Honored by American Folklore Society

Past prize winner Maida Owens (left) and AFS President Dorothy Noyes present Maggie Holtzberg (center) with the 2018 Benjamin A. Botkin Prize at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society in Buffalo, New York. Photo credit: Meredith A. McGriff.

Past prizewinner Maida Owens (left) and AFS President Dorothy Noyes present Maggie Holtzberg (center) with the 2018 Benjamin A. Botkin Prize at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society in Buffalo, New York. Photo credit: Meredith A. McGriff.

At its recent annual meeting in Buffalo, N.Y., the American Folklore Society (AFS) named prominent American folklorist Maggie Holtzberg ’79 of Boston, Mass., as the 2018 recipient of its prestigious Benjamin A. Botkin Prize.

The Botkin Prize is given each year by the American Folklore Society and its Public Programs Section in the name of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901–1975) to recognize lifetime achievement in public folklore. Botkin—eminent New Deal–era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938–1939, advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists, author and compiler of many publications on American folklore for general audiences, and head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress 1942–1945—has had a major impact on the field of public folklore and on the public understanding of folklore.

In its report, the 2018 Botkin Prize Committee praised the outstanding contribution of this year’s awardee, noting: “Maggie Holtzberg has surveyed, documented, and promoted public understanding of the traditional arts and heritage in three states.

Clark ’99, Bleeker ’07: Bully Pulpit Markets for a Better World

Andrew Bleeker ’07 (right) and Ben Clark ’99 were back on campus in March, hosting an employer information session at the Gordon Career Center to talk about their career paths and Bully Pulpit Interactive.(Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Andrew Bleeker ’07 (right) and Ben Clark ’99 were back on campus in March, hosting an employer information session at the Gordon Career Center to talk about their career paths and Bully Pulpit Interactive. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

(By Bill Holder)
When a progressive marketing and communications agency that has major Democratic organizations as clients—and ran the digital marketing operations for Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton—decides to expand into the corporate world, one company you might not expect to be on the list is McDonald’s.

Yes, that’s the purveyor of hamburgers founded by the famously conservative Ray Kroc. But times change, and when McDonald’s wanted to tell the world about its new practices to improve environmental sustainability, the company turned to Bully Pulpit Interactive and founding partners Andrew Bleeker ’07 and Ben Clark ’99.

In doing so, McDonald’s selected a youthful firm known for its strength in digital communications. Bully Pulpit looks for a blend of Madison Avenue creative, Silicon Valley tech, and Inside-the-Beltway politics.

SHOFCO Recipient of Hilton Humanitarian Prize

Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner ’09, center, are directors of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kibera, Kenya. On Aug. 22, SHOFCO received the Hilton Humanitarian Prize by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. SHOFCO’s mission is to build urban promise from urban poverty. (Photo by Audrey Hall)

Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a grassroots nonprofit organization directed by Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner ’09, has been awarded the 2018 Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Selected by a distinguished panel of independent international jurors, SHOFCO will receive $2 million in unrestricted funding, joining 22 other notable organizations that have received the Hilton Humanitarian Prize over the last two decades.

Based in Kibera—one of the largest slums in Africa—SHOFCO was founded by Odede as a teenager in 2004 with 20 cents and a soccer ball. The organization describes its mission as catalyzing large-scale transformation in urban slums by providing community-wide critical services and advocacy platforms, as well as education and leadership development specifically for women and girls. In 2007, Odede met fellow Wesleyan student Posner, who was studying abroad. Together they devised the model that SHOFCO utilizes today.

Leung ’16 Awarded Prestigious Congress-Bundestag Fellowship

Melissa Leung '16 (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Melissa Leung ’16 (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Melissa Leung ’16 is 1 of 75 Americans selected to participate in the 2018–2019 Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals, a yearlong fellowship for study and work in Germany. CBYX for Young Professionals provides opportunities for youth to collaborate, interact with new people and new ideas, and, ultimately, to become better global citizens and better leaders. The program annually provides scholarships to 350 Americans and also brings 360 Germans to the United States.

While in Germany, Leung will attend a two-month intensive German language course, study at a German university or professional school for four months, and complete a five-month internship with a German company in her career field (foreign aid). Participants are placed throughout Germany and have the opportunity to learn about everyday German life from a variety of perspectives.

Funded jointly by Congress (through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) and the German Bundestag, the CBYX program is a unique opportunity for young Americans to enhance their professional skills, as well as broaden their political and cultural awareness by experiencing life in another country. Leung will act as a citizen ambassador of the United States, helping to promote a positive image of the U.S. abroad and creating lifelong friendships and professional connections that will keep German-American relations strong for years to come.

Participants must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 18–24, and have clear career goals and experience in their professional fields. Young professionals in STEM, business, agricultural, and vocational fields are especially encouraged to apply, though candidates in all career fields are eligible. This year more than 600 young professionals vied for a place in this prestigious program.

Six Ironmans In, Cooney ’83 Is Still Devoted to Supporting the Wes Experience

(By Karl Ortegon ’18)

Gretchen Millspaugh Cooney ’83, who played field hockey and swam at Wesleyan in the late ’70s and early ’80s, recently returned home to Philadelphia after competing at the Ironman World Championships in Hawai’i. The race is synonymous with a super triathlon: swim 2.4 miles, hop on your bike and cycle through 112 miles of terrain, and finish it off with a 26.2-mile marathon. No breaks.

For the World Championships, one can only compete by first racing in a qualifying Ironman prior, and going fast enough at the qualifier to secure one of a few slots designated for one’s age group and gender. Cooney claimed her spot at the Ironman Maryland in 2016 to punch her ticket to Kona for this fall’s World Championship.

Abel ’98 Builds Skate Parks, Community in the West Bank

Adam Abel ’98 (right) and his collaborator Mohammed Othman

Adam Abel ’98 has been a frequent traveler from New York City to Qalquilya, Palestine, in the past six years to join his colleague and friend, Mohammed Othman, in reimagining what “normal” might mean in Palestine. Their vision involves helmets, skateboards and a whole lot of concrete.

They call it SkateQilya, as a reference to the city in which their program began. And as its name might suggest, it’s an organization that offers skateboarding instruction. But Abel and Othman see skateboarding as much more than a recreational activity. SkateQilya teaches community building and art: it’s a way to transform perspectives, galvanize communities and teach children to express themselves.

To run these various aspects of the organization, Abel has leveraged his own individual skills and those of others. An installation artist and filmmaker, Abel teaches photography and video and serves as the program’s development director. Othman is the executive director and uses his talents to offer lessons in building community trust. To teach skateboarding they recruited Kenny Reed, a former professional skater, who has taught his skills worldwide.

Their curriculum is also coeducational, which is unusual in Palestine today. In fact, parents don’t hesitate to enroll their kids, especially their daughters. This is because SkateQilya provides a much-needed service in Qalqilya—structured and productive activity for youth.

Though now a nonprofit, the Skateqilya initiative actually began as something entirely different—an art installation. Back in 2011, Abel traveled to Palestine to research his project, Terra Infirma, which employed images from Google Earth to explore geographical, social and political divisions. Qalqilya, which the Israeli West Bank Barrier nearly encloses, became a subject of his project; from above it looks like a peninsula of dense concrete amidst a sea of Israeli farmland.

While visiting Qalqilya for his project, Abel learned that there was a skater there. This piqued his interest and he sought the help of a local guide. That guide was Othman. They traveled together to meet the skater and were stunned when the athlete showed them videos of himself and his fellow skateboarders “flying, [performing] hip-hop and beatboxing.” It was a unifying moment for Abel and Othman.

As an artist, Abel immediately felt the urge to document this unique collective of skaters. He posed the idea to Othman, but Othman felt hesitant at first. “[I was] an activist, not a filmmaker,” he remembers thinking. But Othman also was looking for a change of pace. Collaborating on the documentary project allowed him to improve his community while offering some relief from the tense politics.

However, as the two embarked on their documentary project, they became rapidly immersed in the lives of their subjects. They got to know the children and their families and it wasn’t long before they were constructing skate ramps out of plywood for the locals to use. Their documentary had begun to take a back seat to their community involvement and they quickly realized that building a skate park was not enough.

“If you just open up a skate park and leave it, how are kids going to get boards, how are they going to pay for boards?” asks Abel. “You can’t just build a facility; you have to do something more.”

From this vital question, SkateQilya was born.

Currently, with the help of their partners at Playgrounds for Palestine, an organization that has built playgrounds in Gaza and the West Bank for over 17 years, Abel and Othman are working on expanding their organization. They have just opened a second skate facility, in the village of Jayyous–just a few miles outside Qalqilya. This new skate park was built with the help of SkatePal, another organization that promotes skating in Palestine. Here, Othman and Abel plan to open a small computer center and expand their arts and community-building programs.

While Abel’s work has helped to strengthen the community of Qalqilya, it has also given him something in return—a close collaborator and a lifelong friend. “Mohammed and I have a very special relationship,” he remarks, “He is a son in my family and I am another son in his.”