Tag Archive for Class of 2016

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

‘Walking Elephants Home,’ Named Winner Of The 2017 EOCA Grant

Becca Winkler ’16 and her team at Mahouts Elephant Foundation (MEF), previously nominated and named a finalist in the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) grant for their project “Walking Elephants Home,” have been named the winners of the 2017 EOCA grant.

Though there is much work to do in order to fulfill the requirements of the grant, this grant will play a major role in allowing the team to support not only the elephants and mahouts, but also the surrounding forest and the communities in which they are working.

The previous story on Winkler and her project can be found here.

‘Walking Elephants Home’ Project by Winkler ’16 Nominated for Conservation Grant

 Becca Winkler ’16

Becca Winkler ’16 launched “Walking Elephants Home,” a project that provides a new model of tourism, and has been nominated for a European Outdoor Conversation Association grant.

“Walking Elephants Home,” a Mahouts Elephant Foundation (MEF) project launched and run by Becca Winkler ’16, has been nominated for the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) grant—and voting is open until March 23.

“From many conversations with elephant owners struggling to make ends meet and who were unhappy with the conditions their elephants live in at elephant camps, I could see that we needed a new model,” Winkler said. “The forests of Thailand have been home to the Asian elephant for thousands of years; it is their birthright. ‘Walking Elephants Home’ is on a mission to to prove that tourists should do the work to see elephants in their habitat, rather than removing the elephants and forcing them to live in a tourist camp for our benefit.”

Winkler, a Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies major who first began working with elephants in Thailand as an undergrad, wrote her thesis on “Walking with Giants: Eco-feminist Insights on Elephant Tourism in Thailand.” She received a Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship grant in 2016 that helped her launch and run “Walking Elephants Home” through the MEF, a nonprofit that supports elephants and their mahouts (owners) in Thailand. Collaborating with indigenous people, the MEF offers a successful business model with ethical tourism alternatives to those who free their elephants. Their goal is to not only improve the elephants’ well-being by returning them to their natural habitat but also enhances biodiversity and prevents further deforestation.

Acopian ’16 Nominated Snapchatter of the Year

Recent Film Studies graduate Ani Acopian ’16 has been nominated for the “Snapchatter of the Year” award, presented on behalf of The Shorty Awards.

Created to honor the best of social media by recognizing those with an influential and significant presence, The Shorty Awards draws nominees from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat and more. Acopian gained significant Snapchat clout with her colorful snaps, specializing in narrative pieces, branded content, and music videos. Some of her work featured in her Shorty Award profile include turning the famous Angkor Wat into a real life Temple Run, and creating content for the healthy restaurant chain Sweetgreen.

Acopian’s videos can be viewed on her Shorty Award profile, and be sure to vote for Acopian everyday until voting closes, Feb. 16.

14 Seniors Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

Fourteen members of the Class of 2017 were inducted into Wesleyan's Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth, pictured in the back row, joins the new members of Phi Beta Kappa for a group photo following their initiation ceremony on Dec. 7 at the Office of Admission

On Dec. 7, 14 members of the Class of 2017 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. He or she also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations, and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above. The students in this particular group have GPAs of 93.47 and above and have already met all their undergraduate requirements.

“It’s delightful to be here and celebrate your accomplishments today,” said President Michael Roth during the PBK initiation ceremony. “Being a member of Phi Beta Kappa is a tribute to your abilities and accomplishments, but also your curiosity and desire to learn. We celebrate you and your work as a community of friends, colleagues and teachers.”

They new inductees and their majors include: Rachel Aronow, astronomy and mathematics; Redwan Bhuiyan, College of Integrative Sciences, molecular biology and biochemistry, neuroscience and behavior; Grace Carroll, American studies, sociology; Jennifer Cascino, Hispanic studies, molecular biology and biochemistry; Kaitlin Chan, art studio, College of East Asian Studies; and Roxie Chuang, psychology.

Also Emma Davis, College of Letters; Jenny Davis, English; Julia Indivero, biology, environmental studies; Melissa McKee, earth and environmental sciences; Jessica Perelman, feminist, gender and sexuality studies, psychology; Elizabeth Shackney, government and psychology; Meredith Smith, economics, psychology; Danny Weiss, mathematics, physics.

The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

Photos of the initiation ceremony are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

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Mackey ’16 Recipient of Victory Scholar Program

Former student-athlete Jack Mackey ’16 was named a recipient of the Sport Changes Life Victory Scholar Program.

Victory Scholars are “driven young athletes who spend a year mentoring young people through sport in communities in Northern Ireland and Ireland, while studying for their Masters degree and continuing to play the sport they love.” This year, 23 scholars will embark on a life-changing experience of community outreach initiatives, and academic and athletic fulfillment to help mold the lives of young people and enable them to develop a global perspective.

With the help of The Rory Foundation, the Victory Scholars program will send its scholars to Belfast, Northern Ireland for two weeks of training. Mackey will then take his place at the prestigious Letterkenny Insititue of Technology in Donegal, Ireland.

McGill ’16 Screens Short Film at Princeton Film Festival

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Adam McGill ’16

Film studies major Adam McGill ’16 screened his short film Punked! at the Princeton Student Film Festival this summer. McGill’s comedy is about a punk rock singer and guitarist named Dale, whose allegiance to his music is challenged when a new romance enters his life.

McGill filmed the short in the fall of 2015 as a senior thesis project at Wesleyan. During his time at Wesleyan, McGill was taught by Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, who said, “I’m happy to see his work recognized outside the classroom. He joins a long line of Wesleyan film majors who have gone on to great things after they leave Wesleyan. It’s lots of fun to watch this happen.”

Since graduating in May, McGill worked on small sets in the New York City area and he’s currently interning at Sony Pictures Classics, a film distributor, working with their marketing team.

Punked! also will be playing later this September at the Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City, N.J. View his film online here.

Wesleyan Students Help Local Preschoolers Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten

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Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 works with children in the Kindergarten Kickstart program on July 14 at Bielefield School in Middletown. The program, which is taught by Wesleyan students and local teachers, is celebrating its fifth year this summer. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Kindergarten Kickstart, a research-based, summer pre-K program for children in Middletown created by Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and her students, is celebrating its fifth year. It’s marking the occasion with an event July 20 at the Middletown Roller Skating Rink (free for any current or past Kickstart family, 4 to 6 p.m.) and using a new grant to further develop student innovation in the program.

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At left, Megan Dolan ’17 and Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 help Kindergarden Kickstart students during outdoor playtime.

Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012 as a pilot program with 15 children at MacDonough School. They designed the curriculum and taught the program together with a MacDonough teacher. Today, this five-week program serves 35 children at Bielefield and Farm Hill schools (who will be entering kindergarten at those schools plus MacDonough), with six Wesleyan undergraduates and recent alumni leading the classes and developing the curriculum. A certified teacher continues to work at each site. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including a small budget from Wesleyan’s Provost, the Foundation for Greater Hartford, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, and a seed grant from Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

The program is intended for children who could benefit from an extra pre-school experience before beginning kindergarten in the fall. Through a partnership between university-based research labs, Middletown Public Schools and local community organizations, Kindergarten Kickstart aims to bridge the research-to-practice gap and improve participants’ school readiness skills through a short-term, high-impact, low-cost preschool program.

According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot.

Shusterman said Kindergarten Kickstart was started as a way to put early childhood research into practice.

MSNBC’s Women in Politics, College Edition, Highlights Kate Cullen ’16

Kate Cullen on campus with South College and Memorial Chapel behind her.

Kate Cullen ’16, who served as president of Wesleyan Student Assembly was selected for MSNBC’s “Women in Politics: College Edition.”

Kate Cullen ’16, an earth and environmental science and history major from Bethesda, Md., was selected for MSNBC’s Women in Politics: College Edition series. The president of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, Cullen received the University’s nomination “as a leader making a difference not only through key issues on campus, but in bridging the gender gap in politics.” MSNBC plans to use the series to highlight women candidates and as a springboard for national conversations on women’s issues.

Cullen, who has “been fortunate to have a lot of strong female role models,” says she was motivated to work in student government by “making a tangible impact, whether through policy change, facilitated dialogue or a big community event…” Additionally, she notes, “I think student activism and free expression are of the utmost importance in fostering meaningful campus dialogues.”

Khalied ’16 Delivers Senior Class Welcome (with video)

Wesleyan celebrated the graduates of the Class of 2016 at its 184th Commencement Ceremony on May 22. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Tahreem Kahlied ’16 speaks to fellow graduates. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Tahreem Kahlied ’16 delivered the following Senior Class Welcome during the 184th Commencement Ceremony May 22:

Five years ago, when I was still living in Karachi, Pakistan, and studying for an accounting certification, I logged on to my Facebook and realized that my wall was flooded with graduation pictures. I wrote the following status in a fit of passive-aggressive jealousy (and I quote): “I just realized that I will never have a regular graduation with a convocation where I get to wear a gown and that flat hat thingy.”

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Tahreem Khalied ’16 (Photos by Tom Dzimian)

I wasn’t just jealous…I was extremely sad. I believed wholeheartedly that I would spend my life auditing companies, and that was just depressing.

When I came to the U.S. four and a half years ago I did not know what to expect…and needless to say the first few months here were a cultural shock, completely nerve-wracking. Born and raised in Karachi, it was extremely difficult for me to adjust to the Wesleyan environment. I was scared on so many levels: scared about my future; scared about being the odd one out, the adult, foreign student in a sea of smart, articulate young people; scared about not being American enough to understand what it meant to be a Wesleyan student. Coming to Wesleyan was the first decision I had taken for myself, and it scared me that this one independent decision might turn out to be a big failure.

Women’s Tennis, Crew Teams Qualify for NCAA Championships

Aashli Budhiraja ’18

Aashli Budhiraja ’18

The Wesleyan women’s tennis and women’s crew teams both qualified for the NCAA Championships this week. Women’s tennis, ranked No. 8 in the ITA national rankings, returns to the postseason tournament for the first time since the 2000-01 season, and only the second time in program history. The Cardinals earned a first round bye after posting an 11-5 overall record, and will face the winner of No. 14 Mary Washington and Simmons on May 14 at 11 a.m. on the campus of Amherst College, the regional host. If Wesleyan wins, it would advance to play either No. 7 Amherst, SUNY Geneseo or Ithaca in the third round May 15 at noon.

Women’s tennis is riding a historic season, in which the Cardinals won their first-ever NESCAC Tournament match. Wesleyan, seeded No. 5, defeated the No. 4 seed and sixth-ranked Bowdoin 5-1 to advance to the semifinals. The Cardinals are led by reigning Individual Singles National Champion Eudice Chong ’18, and enter postseason play having won seven of their last eight matches.

In addition to the women’s team qualifying for the team championships, Chong and Aashli Budhiraja ’18 also qualified for the NCAA Individual Championships, while Victoria Yu ’19 was selected as a singles alternate. Additionally, Steven Chen ’18 of the 11th-ranked men’s tennis team qualified in singles play on the men’s side and Michael Liu ’17 was selected as an alternate. Chen and Liu were instrumental in Wesleyan’s success this season, which saw the team win its first-ever NESCAC Tournament match when it defeated Tufts, 5-3, to advance to the semifinals. The Cardinals narrowly missed out on an at-large bid to the team championships and finished the season with a 13-6 record.

Women’s crew, ranked No. 3 in the country, earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Women’s Rowing Championships and will bring its Varsity 8 boat, comprised of Ava Miller-Lewis ’17, Remy Johnson ’16, Annalee Holmdahl ’17, Emma Koramshahi ’16, Ricky Flowers ’19, Emma Halter ’17, Annie Dade ’16, Amanda Molitor ’18 and coxswain Elissa Greenberg ’18. The Cardinals are making their second appearance in the postseason tournament, and first since 2014. Six teams qualified for the championships, while two at-large Eights were also selected. The championship regatta will take place May 27-28 at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, Calif. Wesleyan finished second overall at the New England Championships and third at the National Invitational Rowing Championships.

* Update 5/16/2016
The eighth-ranked women’s tennis team played No. 14 Mary Washington in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and defeated the Eagles decisively, 5-0. Advancing to the ‘Sweet 16′ on Sunday, Wesleyan faced No. 7 Amherst College on the Little Three rivals’ home court. The Cardinals came up short, as they were defeated 5-2. Wesleyan’s historic season came to an end as it finished the year with a 12-6 record.

Women's Crew.

Women’s Crew.

Wesleyan Students, Local Seniors Become ‘Fast Friends’

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Every week, a group of Wesleyan students in the Wesleyan Alliance for Generational Exchange (WesAGE), visit local senior centers to play card games and bingo and interact with the residents.

“Our residents can’t get out into the community because of mobility and safety issues,” David Frankel, activities coordinator at One MacDonough House, told The Middletown Press in a feature story about the program. “So Wesleyan students through a program called WesAGE come to MacDonough Friday afternoons rather than party with their friends. These are special young men and women. They let us know that we’re a value to the community.”

“Wesleyan University has worked very hard at becoming part of the Middletown community,” he added, praising how the program motivates students and encourages assisted-living residents to remain active.

Gabe Borelli ’16 coordinates the WesAGE Companions Program. Borelli, who is studying economics, politics and history, says students in his program are paired with an elderly companion from one of the area’s assisted living homes: Heritage Commons, One MacDonough, South Green Apartments or Wadsworth Glen.

“I try to match student volunteers with residents’ interests,” said Borelli, who became involved in the program when he was a sophomore. “Whether it’s Scrabble, dominoes or other social games, they really enjoy getting to know the residents.”

Borelli says though some people believe there’s a wide gap between generations, “we usually find common interests such as politics, sports and our personal histories.”10255339_10203921605587222_6579148984284863708_o

Carolina Elices ’17, also a program coordinator, is majoring in art history and English. From Arlington, Massachusetts, Elices plans on earning a master’s degree in English, then teaching or working in publishing. She says WesAGE is her favorite activity at school and looks forward to spending Friday afternoons sharing stories with residents at MacDonough.

“It makes a nice change talking to people who aren’t 18 to 22,” she says. One of her favorite resident companions is a woman who is an excellent Scrabble player. “Ann usually beats me,” Elices says. “But, the two times I’ve beaten her she vows never to play me again,” she laughs.