Tag Archive for alumni achievements

Fecteau ’91, Nelson ’94 Recipients of MacArthur Genius Grants

Vincent Fecteau '91 and Maggie Nelson '94 received MacArthur "genius grants" Sept. 22. 

Vincent Fecteau ’91 and Maggie Nelson ’94 received MacArthur “genius grants” on Sept. 22.

Two Wesleyan alumni are recipients of the 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, commonly known as the “genius grants.”

Vincent Fecteau ’91 and Maggie Nelson ’94 each received a no-strings-attached $625,000 grant for their exceptional creativity and potential for future contributions to their fields.

Vincent Fecteau works from his studio in California.

Vincent Fecteau works from his studio in California.

They’re among 23 fellows in the country to receive the honor.

“While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope” said MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”

Vincent Fecteau, a studio arts major, is a sculptor who creates abstract pieces—by hand from simple materials—that encourage careful and concentrated looking and reflection. His slow and meticulous approach to his craft, as well as his experimentation with modes of displaying his work, demonstrates that abstract sculpture is a vital and expressive form of art.

The results are both captivating and demanding; as viewers work to understand what they are seeing, they find themselves at the threshold between visual perception and objective knowledge of three-dimensional space. In this way, Fecteau imbues his work with philosophical content, just as the work assumes psychological dimensions through its uncanny correspondences with the human body. In our age of ever-increasing distraction, Fecteau’s sculpture offers a place for the sustained experience of thought and observation to unfold and flourish.

Maggie Nelson, an English major, is a writer reflecting on the complexities of gender, identity and culture in day-to-day living in works that transcend the divide between the intellectual and the personal. She is creating a new form of nonfiction writing and cultural criticism that examines some of the most pressing cultural issues of our time, such as transgender and queer identity, depictions of violence and femininity. Her work, like her most recent book The Argonauts, represents an empathetic and open-ended way of thinking that offers a model for how even very different people can live together.

Since 2005, she has been a member of the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where she currently serves as director of the Creative Writing Program.

Since 2005, Maggie Nelson has been a member of the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where she currently serves as director of the Creative Writing Program.

In all of her work, Nelson remains skeptical of truisms and ideologies and continually challenges herself to consider multiple perspectives. Her empathetic and open-ended way of thinking—her willingness to change her mind and even embrace qualities of two seemingly incompatible positions—offers a powerful example for how very different people can think and live together. Through the dynamic interplay between personal experience and critical theory, Nelson is broadening the scope of nonfiction writing while also offering compelling meditations on social and cultural questions.

Sculpture artist Jeffrey Schiff, professor of art, and painter Tula Telfair, professor of art, remember having Fecteau as a student. They’re impressed with his “remarkable body of work” that explores the fullness of dimensionality in sculpture.

“His small and medium sized sculptures, usually on pedestals or hanging on the wall, wrap form around space in convoluted tangles, sometimes incorporating objects or photographic images in the mix. The work reminds us of the endless potential mobility of space, while composed of simple non-precious materials,” Shiff says. “In all his work, his touch or hand is in evidence.

At Wesleyan, working with Tula Telfair, Fecteau produced a painting thesis that was, even then, fundamentally sculptural, balancing colorful objects in juxtaposition with each other and the gallery space – each contained in a plastic tailored slipcover. “These sculptures hung a few inches off the wall like paintings – creating shimmery and curiously intimate bubbles that hinted at narratives while remaining purely formal,” Telfair said.

Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, worked with Nelson on her honors thesis, which focused on confessional poetry.

“Maggie’s artistic practice is a demanding one,” Crosby says. “She reports in The Argonauts that she sometimes finds herself laboring ‘grimly’ over her sentences, wondering if any language offers the needful form (52). Her practice makes no claim for emotional transparency (as if one can simply know one’s own, or another’s, emotions). Art can hold open a space in which we – the writer and the reader – don’t know, and in that not knowing can address the world without attempting to know it fully creates possibility. Her artistic practice makes a space for interactions that undo the known landscape, the one covered by cliché. She is open to exploring the sometimes explosive intimacies of the everyday – not every conversation is a happy one –, and she does not hide, conceal, sidestep, or evade what she finds there.”

Wesleyan boasts several other alumni MacArthur Fellows including 1988 recipient Ruth Behar ’77, cultural anthropologist; 1994 recipient Sam-Ang Sam PhD ’88, musician and cultural preservationist; 2005 recipient Majora Carter ’88, urban revitalization strategist; 2009 recipient James Longley ’94, filmmaker; and 2015 recipient Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, playwright and performer.

In addition, Eiko Otake, visiting artist in dance and East Asian studies, won a MacArthur in 1996; translator/poet/publisher Peter Cole, who worked as a visiting writer and professor at Wesleyan, received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2007; and jazz composer and performer Anthony Braxton, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, Emeritus, received the award in 1994.

Ekperigin ’05, Writer and Actress, to Perform Stand-Up on Late Night with Seth Meyers

Naomi Ekperigin

Naomi Ekperigin ’05 will make her first appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Sept. 29. (Photo by Ben Esner Photography)

Naomi Ekperigin ’05, a writer, comedian, and actress based in New York City, will make her first appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Sept. 29. Ekperigin, known for tackling race, politics, and religion in her routine, will perform her stand-up act ahead of her Comedy Central special, The Half Hour, which airs in October.

Ekperigin, who studied English and film studies, started performing when she arrived at Wesleyan.

“I always enjoyed acting and performing as a kid, but I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to do it. Once I got to Wesleyan, I did a lot of theater, which was my primary extracurricular,” she said.

She joined Gag Reflex, Wesleyan’s oldest comedy troupe. This was her first real experience performing comedy and was her first step towards becoming a stand-up.

Ekperigin believes one of the most pivotal moments in her life was attending and performing in the New Student Orientation activity, In the Company of Others, which featured upperclassmen sharing their stories. Ekperigin explained, “When I attended the show freshman year, I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 and Julius Onah ‘04 and distinctly remember thinking, ‘I like this place. I’m going to be okay here.’”

She went on to perform in the show during orientation for the rest of her years at Wesleyan. She loved working with the director, Karen Bovard ‘77, and sharing her experience with the Wesleyan community. “When I stood in Crowell Concert Hall, facing more than 500 students, and making them laugh, I felt a rush and a calmness I’d never felt before,” she said. “I knew performing in that way was what I was meant to do, and it is a huge part of how I got to where I am now.”

“Wesleyan was where I found my voice and lost the sense of fear of expressing myself,” she said. “By the time I graduated I had a pretty clear sense of who I was, and how I wanted to express myself.”

At Wesleyan, Ekperigin earned High Honors and the Akiva Goldsman Prize for Screenwriting for her film thesis, a feature-length screenplay. “These accomplishments were signs that I was headed in the right direction, and that I had an actual talent for writing, not just an interest,” she said. Her writing experience during college also set her up for a career as a television writer, most notably on the Comedy Central series Broad City, which stemmed from her experience as a stand-up comedian.

As for what’s next, Ekperigin is serving as a co-executive producer and writer on a pilot starring Jessica Williams from The Daily Show. She explained, “This half-hour comedy will look at issues around race, gender, and feminism through the eyes of a millennial who wants to ‘be the change’ but doesn’t quite know how to put that into practice now that she’s in the real world.”

Actor, Director Schaal ’06 Returns to Campus for Sold-Out Premiere of Go Forth

Kaneza Schaal ’06 (Photo by Randi Plake)

Kaneza Schaal ’06 spoke to Wesleyan theater majors Sept. 15. (Photo by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography)

Actor and director Kaneza Schaal ’06 returned to campus for her New England premiere of GO FORTH (2015), a series of vignettes with projection, sound, and dance inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The four performances took place over the past weekend to a sold-out audience.

At a special lunch surrounded by a group of theater majors, one being GO FORTH ensemble member Cheyanne Williams ’17, Schaal explained how the Book of the Dead inspired her production: “I was drawn to the Book of the Dead after experiencing the loss of my father. I went to Rwanda for the ceremony and experienced a ritualized grieving process that helped me process his death.”

Schaal credits her time studying theater and psychology for preparing her for a creative career. “What I gained at Wesleyan was the opportunity to learn many languages, psychology, and theater, which all came together to how I make my work.” Furthermore, she explained that it was the faculty and staff who really supported her to go out and make what interested her.

After Wesleyan, Schaal came up in the downtown experimental theater community, first working with The Wooster Group, then with companies and artists including Elevator Repair Service, Richard Maxwell/New York City Players, Claude Wampler, Jay Scheib, New York City Opera and National Public Radio. Schaal is an Arts-in-Education advocate and just returned from a new project with the International Children’s Book Library in Munich, Germany working with young Syrian and Eritrean refugees to address migration and storytelling.

Quigley ’08 is Knight Cities Challenge Winner

Caitlin Quigley ’08 received a Knight Cities Fellowship for her project, "20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses."

Caitlin Quigley ’08 won a Knight Cities Challenge for her project in Philadelphia: “20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses.”


(By Margaret Curtis ’16)

Philadelphia-based Caitlin Quigley ’08 was selected as a winner of the Knight Cities Challenge for her project “20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses.” The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded 37 winners out of a pool of more than 4,500 applicants with a share of $5 million to support one of the 26 communities in which the foundation invests.

Quigley and her organization, the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA), were awarded $146,000 to implement her project, which will support neighborhood businesses. Quigley’s project will form 20 community-based book clubs of six to 12 people who will choose readings, films, and field trips that pertain to cooperatives. In six months, each book club will identify a business need in their neighborhood—such as a lack of grocery stores, credit unions, childcare centers, hardware stores, or artist studios—and form a business cooperative to meet that need.

PACA is a cooperative and a 501(c)3 nonprofit that aims to support the local economy by promoting local cooperatives.

The mission of the Knight Cities Challenge is to support initiatives that aid growing communities through what the Knight Foundation calls the “three drivers of city success:” attracting and keeping talented people, expanding economic opportunities, and creating a culture of civic engagement.

“This project will bring together residents to learn and work collaboratively in order to build long-lasting community-owned businesses,” Quigley said.

At Wesleyan, she double majored in Spanish and film studies.


Guiney ’77 Wins Freedom Through Literacy Award

Sue Rappaport Guiney ’77 and her organization, Writing Through, received one of six prestigious international Freedom Through Literacy award. Hosted by Judith’s Reading Room, an organization that provides literature to those who do not have access to it, the competition will donate $1,000 to the work of Writing Through. Guiney and the five other recipients will be honored at a dinner co-sponsored by the Colonial Association of Reading Educators (C.A.R.E.) in May.

A novelist, poet and educator, Guiney founded Writing Through as a way to develop English fluency, conceptual thinking, and self-esteem through the creative writing process. She began on a volunteer trip to Cambodia, teaching workshops to children from an educational shelter.

Sue Rappaport Guiney ’77, founder of Writing Through, leads an English creative writing class in Cambodia.

Sue Rappaport Guiney ’77, founder of Writing Through, leads an English creative writing class in Cambodia.

From that trip, she found inspiration for  the first in her collection of novels set in modern day Cambodia, A Clash of Innocents. The second in the collection, Out of the Ruins, was published in 2014. Determined to give back to the people who inspired her, Guiney expanded those initial workshops into an organization that targets at-risk and underserved populations. It offers both students and adults, in schools and NGOs throughout Cambodia, the opportunity to learn to express themselves in written English.

She has garnered international attention for this work. From 2011-2013, she was Writer-in-Residence in the SE Asia Department of The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. And the organization continues to grow: Later this year, Guiney will expand the Writing Through program into Singapore—and she has been receiving requests for the program from sites in Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia.

Guiney explained her commitment in a “Letter Home” article published in the Wesleyan Magazine (2013, issue 2): “Through writing, I am helping the children of Cambodia find their places in the future, find a future for their country, find their own self-esteem and exercise their otherwise untapped abilities in conceptual thinking.”

Wright ’77 Elected to American Pediatric Society

Dr. Joseph L. Wright ’77, MD, was elected to the American Pediatric Society.

Dr. Joseph L. Wright ’77, MD, was elected to the American Pediatric Society.

Dr. Joseph Wright ’77, MD, MPH, and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at Howard University College of Medicine, was recently elected to the American Pediatric Society (APS).

“Election to the APS is a special honor,” said Wright, noting that membership provides a platform for him to further, not only “Howard’s commitment to outstanding patient care and service to the community,” but also the missions of the numerous national advisory bodies he serves on, including the Department of Transportation’s National EMS Advisory Council, the American Hospital Association’s Maternal and Child Health Council, the March of Dimes’ Public Policy Advisory Council, and recently, as an Obama Administration appointee to the Food and Drug Administration’s Pediatric Advisory Committee.

He was a psychology major at Wesleyan.

“Star Power” of Sirmans ’91 Draws Crowd to Miami Museum

Franklin Sirmans ’91, director of the Pérez Art Museum, welcomed guests to the successful fundraiser, which the Miami Herald lauded as "stellar." Photo by Pedro Portal for El Nuevo Herald.com

Franklin Sirmans ’91, director of the Pérez Art Museum, welcomed guests to the successful fundraiser, which the Miami Herald lauded as “stellar.” (Photo by Pedro Portal for El Nuevo Herald.com)

Franklin Sirmans ’91, director of the Pérez Art Museum of Miami (PAMM), was credited for his “star power” that drew a crowd to the museum’s reception and fundraiser. The first African-American director of this publicly funded museum, Sirman was previously curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

An article in the Miami Herald quoted Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen ’66, who attributed the rise in attendance—double that of last year—to previously successful celebrations, as well as to Sirman’s arrival: “There is no getting around the fact that people are excited about Franklin Sirmans; they’re energized and they’re proud that he’s our museum director.”

Ibargüen notes that Sirmans took on the leadership of the museum “just after the opening of a fabulous new building on Biscayne Bay by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron.”
The Knight Foundation and real estate developer Pérez, for whom the museum is named, contributed $1 million to PAMM’s African American Art Fund to purchase works by African Americans. The evening event was designed to raise awareness of the project and to strengthen connections with the African American community.

“Franklin is determined to make PAMM both Miami’s most popular arts stop, and a place of scholarship and artistic rigor,” says Ibargüen. “He and Jessica are welcome additions to a town that welcomes builders.”

Hamilton Wins Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album

The Broadway musical sensation­ Hamilton claimed a Grammy Feb. 15 for Best Musical Theater album, and the show’s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, rapped his acceptance speech. Miranda and the cast of Hamilton (directed by Thomas Kail ’99) also performed for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony live via satellite from the show’s home at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York.

In addition to Miranda and Kail, the show’s Wesleyan connections include album co-producer Bill Sherman ’02 and Atlantic Records’ head of A&R Peter Ganbarg ’88, who helped sign the album to the label.

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, rapped his acceptance speech. Miranda and the cast of Hamilton (directed by Thomas Kail ’99)

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 and Thomas Kail ’99. (Photo by Robert Adam Mayer)

“This has been an amazing experience for all involved, and the fact that so many Wes alums are a part of this makes it even more special,” Ganbarg said. “Hamilton is the fastest-selling Broadway cast recording in over 20 years, since Rent, and it will soon be certified as a Gold album—the first cast album to be certified since Jersey Boys, almost 10 years ago.”

“To perform from our home is a dream come true,” Miranda said of the performance in a statement prior to the ceremony. Grammy Awards’ producer Ken Ehrlich called Hamilton “the toast of Broadway” in an interview with ET. Stephen Colbert had the honor of introducing the cast performance of the show’s opening number live from New York.

Miranda previously won a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album for his Broadway debut In the Heights. Sherman, the album’s co-producer, also received a Grammy that year. In the Heights also received several Tony Awards.

Next up for Hamilton: Nominations for the 2016 Tony Awards will be announced live on May 3, with the awards presented at the Beacon Theatre in New York on Sunday, June 12.

Wesleyan hosted a sold-out benefit performance of Hamilton on Oct. 2, raising $1.6 million for financial aid. Read more.

Quah ’12 has ‘All the News on Podcasting’

Nicholas Quah ’12 is the creator of Hot Pods, a newsletter on podcasting that is garnering attention as expert commentary on a new field of journalism.

Nicholas Quah ’12 is the creator of Hot Pods, a newsletter on podcasting that is garnering attention as expert commentary on a new field of journalism.

Nicholas Quah ’12 is the subject of “Meet the 26-year-old who’s got all the news on podcasting,” an article by Benjamin Miller on Poynter.org. Quah is the creator and full-time blogger at Hot Pod, his newsletter about podcasts, which you can find at nicholasquah.com. It is also hosted at NiemanLab, the site for Harvard’s Neiman Foundation for Journalism.

While most media aficionados consider the fall of 2014 to be the time when podcasts gained considerable popularity (Serial—the true crime investigation series on public radio is just one example), Quah had been a fan of podcasts for several years by then: as a Wesleyan undergrad majoring in the College of Social Studies, he had enjoyed podcasts. He continued listening in his post-college life, where he started as a research associate at Business Insider.

Both as a fan and a journalist, Quah followed podcasting from a cultural and business perspective. He began an e-mail newsletter, Hot Pods, because, as he explained to Miller: “It just felt like there was a lot missing…. Why were there developments in podcasting? Why were there developments in podcasting culture? Where did “Serial” come from? …I approached it from a criticism standpoint at first and then expanded into more business-side stuff.”

On Jan. 26, he announced his departure from Panoply, a podcast network, for which he served as manager of audience development, to devote himself full time to HotPods, hoping to make his avocation a sustainable business, with subscribers receiving weekly updates—with the option to pay a fee and receive more frequent communications, with Quah’s insights and analysis.

The decision, he told Miller, came about because:  “I think it feels like everything in podcasting is moving a lot quicker, and we’re going to hit some kind of tipping point. And I want to be an outsider and cover that when it happens.”

Bush ’93 Receives Leadership Award from Tufts Medical Center

Jonathan Bush '93, chair, CEO, and cofounder of athena health, was named a visionary leader by Tufts Medical Center.

Jonathan Bush ’93, chair, CEO, and cofounder of athenahealth, was named a visionary leader by Tufts Medical Center.

Tufts Medical Center selected Jonathan Bush ’93 to receive the Ellen M. Zane Award for Visionary Leadership. Chairman and CEO of the health care technology company, athenahealth, Bush was cited for “exemplifying visionary and transformational leadership” as well as his “passion for uniting individualized and coordinated patient care with the demands and practicalities of healthcare management.”

Bush co-founded athenahealth in 1997. In 2007 it was the most successful initial public offering, and it is now one of the health care information technology industry’s fastest growing companies, considered by many to be industry standard. In announcing the award, President and CEO of Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children Dr. Michael Wagner said, “I am proud that we share Jonathan’s enthusiasm to drive change in health care for the greater good.”

Runner ’79 Named President and CEO of Chicago Urban League

Shari Runner ’79 was named president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League

Shari Runner ’79 was named president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

Shari Runner ’79 was named president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Crain’s Chicago Business notes that she is redirecting the purpose of league.

“Right now, all the things we support are in turmoil,” Runner told reporter Shia Kapos. “We have an opportunity to change that.”

Runner had been interim leader of the Urban League for eight months and had served as senior vice president for strategy and community development a the Urban League since 2010. Previously a banker—vice president of ABN/AMRO Bank and vice president at First National Bank of Chicago—she attributes her move into the nonprofit world to her parents’ influence: her mother was a social worker and her father was a pediatrician.

“It was in my DNA to be of service to the community,” she told Kapos.

While the Urban League has always championed economic empowerment and civil rights, it had been most recently focused on strengthening the business community after the financial crisis. However, with current concerns about gun violence and police/community relationships, Runner plans to focus on education and social justice, as well as economic empowerment. “We’re at a unique point in time. We need to make sure the Urban League is strengthening African-American communities,” Runner explained to Kapos.

Runner also met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and officials with the U.S. Justice Department. Emanuel “inherited this dysfunctional” system, Runner said, adding, “We need systemic change. We need to make sure we’re changing something in people’s minds that allowed this to exist for 60 years without it being a priority.”

Runner comes to the position after serving since 2010 as senior vice president for strategy and community development at the Urban League. Prior to that, the Chicago native was a vice president of ABN/AMRO Bank and vice president at First National Bank of Chicago.

She grew up in Hyde Park and attended the University of Chicago’s Lab Schools. At Wesleyan, she majored in psychology. She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Lubell ’98, Lexton ’08, Marcus ’13 on Top National Noteworthy Lists

Jordyn Lexton ’08, founder of Drive Change

Jordyn Lexton ’08, founder of Drive Change

Forbes named Jordyn Lexton ’08 and Guy Marcus ’13 to the 2016 “30 under 30” list for 2016, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy highlighted David Lubell ’98 as one of the “40 Under 40.”

Under the headline, “Todays Brightest Young Stars and The Future Leaders of Everything” Forbes magazine highlighted two Wesleyan alumni in their fifth annual listings of the top 30 young leaders in 20 different categories.

From an initial list of 15,000, Jordyn Lexton ’08 made the listing in entrepreneurs. Lexton is the founder of “Drive Change,” which employs previously incarcerated youth, teaching food preparation as well as providing positions in their award-winning culinary vehicle in NYC.