Tag Archive for Class of 2012
by Olivia Drake •
A book coauthored by Wesleyan alumni Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner ’09 was unanimously chosen as the Common Reading selection for the Class of 2023.
The Common Reading is part of Wesleyan’s First Year Matters Program, which serves as an introduction to intellectual life at Wesleyan.
All Class of 2023 students will receive an electronic copy of the book, Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum (2016). As their first Wesleyan “homework assignment,” the students are expected to read it prior to New Student Orientation. The book will serve as a tool for spearheading discussions throughout the Class of 2023’s first year.
Odede also plans to speak to the Class of 2023 during orientation.
Find Me Unafraid tells the story of two young people whose collaboration sparked a successful movement to transform the lives of vulnerable girls and the urban poor.
The book explores how Kennedy, a native of Kibera (the largest urban slum in Africa) first confronted his environment by creating Shining Hope for Communities, a group to empower urban youth and women. Soon thereafter, he met Jessica, who was working in community theater in Kibera during her semester abroad. The two fell in love, bringing their worlds and community commitment together. Kennedy exchanged the escalating violence of Kibera for the world of higher education, attending Wesleyan with a full scholarship. After graduation, Kennedy and Jessica returned to Kenya to start the Kibera School for Girls. Find Me Unafraid provides a compelling account of how these two people became agents of the kind of change that embodies the pragmatic idealism that is core to Wesleyan’s mission.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
This summer, bad things happen here, a play directed by Lila Rachel Becker ’12, was featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
An MFA student at the University of Iowa, Becker has been paired to work with Eric Marlin—whom she calls “an incredible playwright, a brilliant collaborator”—since she began her graduate work in 2017. She is drawn, she says, to “incendiary” plays—and after producing this one in Iowa last November, a few professors encouraged the partnership to take it around to festivals. Noting that the spare design of bad things happen here made it easy to bring across the ocean to the eclectic theater spaces of the Fringe Festival, Becker adds: “Edinburgh is this huge platform for international theater artists. We were both particularly excited about that aspect of it.”
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
Garth Taylor ’12 is branching out. Over the past five years he has witnessed his Wesleyan band, The Rooks, expand beyond raucous campus concerts. Since graduation, they’ve relocated to New York City and to shows at larger and more established venues. His confidence and skills have grown in tandem with his band’s. And now he feels ready for a new challenge—a solo career, with the song “Human Nature.”
“It was a slow decision. In fact, I don’t even know if it was a decision,” he says. At first he didn’t feel very confident. But the city, so full of creative energy and collaboration, seemed to push him to expand his artistic limits. After arriving, he began to pursue background singing to broaden his skills and to adapt to the music industry.
But of course, he also sang out of necessity: “I’m an artist and I live in New York City—you have to pay some bills, here!”
In 2014, around the same time he took up background singing, he also began to collaborate with a friend from Toronto who had stayed with him in the city. “It was with him that I wrote my first solo song,” he recalls. The two traded tracks and Taylor began to find his own style, drawing upon the R&B and Neo Soul sounds. Some inspirations include D’Angelo, Frank Ocean and Solange.
by Catherine Abert '18 •
Gabriel Urbina ‘13 had been out of college for eight months when, “one day, for whatever reason, this idea for a show popped into my head.” The show manifested itself as a radio drama called Wolf 359 which, four years later and in the midst of its final season, has found itself maintaining a vibrant cult following among its ever growing fan base and a finalist in the Digital Audio Drama category of the 2017 Webby Awards. Of further note: Wolf 359 is a hugely Wesleyan collaborative effort — of the 12 cast and production members, all are Wesleyan alumni!
Staff writer and producer Sarah Shachat ’12 describes Wolf 359 as “a sort of wonderful way to work with awesome people you didn’t know how to approach in college.”
Wolf 359 is based around the life of the communications officer of the U.S.S. Hephaestus Research Station, Doug Eiffel (voiced by Zach Valenti ’12), who is orbiting around the red dwarf star Wolf 359 on a scientific survey mission of indeterminate length. Eiffel’s only companions are the stern mission chief Minkowski (Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11), the insane science officer Hilbert (also Valenti ’12), and the station sentient, an often-malfunctioning operating system called HERA, (Michaela Swee ’12).
While rooted in the sci-fi genre, Urbina says “no genre has made a conscious effort to stay out of the show,” with inspiration drawn on from “conversations I have with the cast members about politics, philosophy, religion, and ecology.” Urbina, Valenti, and Shachat all describe their time as film majors at Wesleyan as integral in their ability to, as Valenti says, “pull the magic trick that is film on the audience’s nervous system with deliberate and intentful choice.”
Urbina describes the experience of working on Wolf 359 as “a proof-of-concept for all of us, to feel that we can execute something creative that we can put out regularly.” As a project that began as a side experiment in the midst of the busy lives of the cast and crew, “the fact that Wolf has found an audience that really cares about it is unspeakably cool,” says Shachat.
As Urbina and Co. gear up to record their final season of Wolf 359 this summer, Urbina respond to the inevitable “what’s next” question with, “The short answer is, ‘We don’t know’; the slightly longer answer is, ‘We all would love to continue working together as much as we can.’”me and
by Frederic Wills '19 •
Based on the senior thesis of Jared Lefkowitz ’12, “A Tale of Two Lakes: The Newberry Volcano Twin Crater Lakes, Oregon, USA,” was published online, Nov. 25, by the Geological Society of London, U.K, as part of the volume, Geochemistry and Geophysics of Active Volcanic Lakes. The study is co-authored by Lefkowitz; Ellen Thomas, research professor in earth and environmental science; and Johan Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor in Earth Science. Varekamp also is professor of environmental science, adjunct professor in Latin American studies, and chair of the Geological Society of America’s Limnogeology Division. Thomas also is the University Professor in the College of Integrates Sciences.
The chapter examines the complex ecosystems of Newberry Volcano’s two small crater lakes, East Lake and Paulina Lake, which are of interest to scientists because of the presence of highly toxic components and the signs gas-charging in East Lake. “These factors present natural hazards, which may change when new volcanic activity is initiated,” Varekamp explained. The presence of nearby “seismic triggers or disrupted lake stratification gives scientists a situation to monitor, as these factors can cause sudden intense CO2 degassing in the very different chemistries and gas contents of the two lakes.”
The authors’ abstract is online here.
Additionally, Varekamp contributed papers on Taal Lake in the Philippines and on the Copahue Volcano crater lake in Argentina. Both of these chapters will be published in the same volume in the upcoming weeks.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
It doesn’t seem an obvious choice, publishing one of the most important memoirs to come out of the Holocaust into the language of a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population—but that’s exactly the project Max Bevilacqua ’12 and Mansoor Alam ’15 have taken on.
The project is the brainchild of Bevilacqua, who grew up in a Jewish household and studied Christianity as a religion major at Wesleyan. As a Fulbright scholar, he requested placement in Indonesia, which is 88 percent Muslim, and where he taught English. State department officials—as well as family and friends—encouraged Bevilacqua not to reveal his religious identity, since Judaism is not sanctioned there.
“I struggled with that,” he said. “But I came to see it as— I wanted to be ‘Max, the American who is our teacher.’ I didn’t want my religion to be distraction.”
Still, the secret weighed on him. Ten days before his year was complete, he gathered his friends. “You should know that I’m Jewish,” he said.
His announcement was met with some confusion—why hadn’t he told them? It was a time to acknowledge his own fears and biases—and the best way seemed to be with a book: Night, by Elie Wiesel. This memoir recounted Weisel’s horrific experiences as a young boy in the German concentration camps during World War II.
“The book provided an epiphany of the trauma that has been associated with being Jewish,” Bevilacqua said.
Back in the United States, Bevilacqua continued pondering the bridge he’d found. What would it take to share this powerful book with a country that had never had it available to them?
He remembered that he already knew a publisher: Mansoor Alam ’15. The two had met as undergrads. Alam describes Bevilacqua as “very personable—you can sit down and really talk with him.” Bevilacqua calls Alam “humble and brilliant; a true Renaissance man.”
Alam had started his own publishing company as a first-year student at Wesleyan. “There are so many good writers and great content that doesn’t make it to readers; I wanted to figure out a way to give authors autonomy and make it cost effective,” he explained. He provides his clients with assistance in copyediting, graphics and marketing.
“When Max talked to me about the project, I knew we absolutely had to do this,” Alam said. “The challenge of it—the ‘what’— was thrilling to me, and Max was so passionate about the ‘why’ of it.”
The “what” began with obtaining rights from the French publishing company, in a series of carefully crafted letters written in French. Next, they lined up a cohort of French/Indonesian translators.
The process is intensive. “It’s such a visceral, personal book,” Bevilacqua said.
“Max was worried about losing the impact of those details,” Alam said. “To make sure that doesn’t happen, we rely on a network. Translators compare their work—how they rendered this word, that phrase.”
With the translation nearly completed, Bevilacqua is focused on coordinating classrooms in American and in Indonesia who will read Night together. “It’s a book that can bridge cultures,” he said. “When we think about the Muslim world, let’s also look to developing friendships in Indonesia.”
To follow their progress, see http://growingoodfaith.org/.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
A paper by Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins, Alexander Hirsch ’13 and Michael Inkles ’12 has been published in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.
Titled, “The threat of racial progress and the self-protective nature of perceiving anti-White bias,” the paper describes two studies in which the researchers examine whether racial progress is threatening to whites, and if perceiving anti-white bias assuages that threat. The first study showed that whites primed with racial progress—by reading an article on social advancement by minorities—exhibited evidence of threat: lower implicit self-worth relative to the baseline. The second study replicated the threat effect from the first study, and examined how perceived discrimination may buffer the white participants’ feelings of self-worth. After the participants attributed a negative event to their race, their implicit self-worth rebounded. For those primed with high racial progress, greater “racial discounting” (attributing rejection to one’s race rather than to oneself) was associated with greater self-worth protection. The researchers concluded that these studies suggest changes to the racial status quo are threatening to whites and that perceiving greater racial bias is a way to manage that threat.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
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.”
by Lauren Rubenstein •
“Kennedy Odede is one of the most joy-filled people I’ve met,” begins David Brooks in his regular New York Times column.
On November 10, Brooks turned his column over to Odede ’12, who grew up in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya and attended Wesleyan. Together with his wife Jessica Posner Odede ’09, Odede created the community organization Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco) and a school for girls in Kibera. Together, they’ve authored the new book, Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss and Hope in an African Slum.
In the column, Odede tells his story in his own words. He describes a tumultuous childhood filled with hunger, violence, and the death of many loved ones. Brooks asks, “How did this delightful man emerge from this horrific childhood?”
“While I didn’t have food, couldn’t go to school, or when I was the victim or witness of violence, I tried to appreciate things like the sunrise — something that everyone in the world shares and can find joy in no matter if you are rich or poor. Seeing the sunrise was always healing for me, it was a new day, and it was a beauty to behold,” Odede writes.
He learned to replace negative addictions with a positive one—to books—and to learn that no situation, no matter how dire, lasts forever. He writes:
For every bad person I encountered who hurt me and caused me suffering and pain, I also met a lot of good people. For the priest that abused me, I met a man of God who saved my life on the day I stole a mango and was almost beaten to death (he paid back the mango’s price and more).
“My mom taught me that while there is a God, that one God might be very busy, so we have to rely on the people we encounter in our life who become what she called ‘small gods.’
by Olivia Drake •
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.
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 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.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Gizmodo features the artwork of Timothy “Timmy” Lee ’12. A neuroscience and behavior, biology and studio arts triple major, Lee always loved drawing but decided to pursue art professionally during his last year at Wesleyan, abandoning plans to attend medical school. According to the article, his time as a neuroscience student is apparent in his work: “These beautiful sculptures and paintings are his way of digging inside his own complex and sometimes disturbing personality.”