Wesleyan students and alumni impact the world in so many ways. As you explore the journeys we’re sharing this spring and reflect on your own, we hope you’re inspired to help the next generation of Cardinals take flight.
View the journeys of Charles Bonar ’19 and Jessica Chukwu ’11 online here.
Two Wesleyan students are the recipients of the Friends of the Wesleyan Library’s third annual Undergraduate Research Prize.
Emma Leuchten ’19
Isaac Klimasmith ’20
Emma Leuchten ’19, an anthropology and religion double major, received the first place prize for her senior essay, “Anthropology Beyond Belief: Navigating Dreams and Reality in the Burmese Weikza Tradition.” Leuchten based the paper on fieldwork she conducted in Myanmar during a semester abroad. Her advisor was Elizabeth Traube, professor of anthropology.
The essay explores quests for power and knowledge in a contemporary Burmese wizardry tradition. Drawing from personal interviews with weikza (wizard-saints), devotees, and skeptics, Leuchten examines the tensions that have arisen between this tradition and orthodox Buddhist institutions in the post-colonial religious and political landscapes of Myanmar.
“I write against the anthropological impulse to study the symbolic or cultural value of religious figures and experiences—the tendency to explain ‘what’s really going on’ beneath a spiritual event,” Leuchten said. “Beginning with the premise that what I’m studying is real, I propose that a rigorous but open exploration of alternate ontologies can work to destabilize the dominant ontological assumptions that sociocultural discourse takes for granted.”
Isaac Klimasmith ’20, a biology major, received the second place prize for his essay, “Waters in the Wilderness and Rivers in the Desert: Irrigation Myths in the History of Early Mormon Agriculture.” Klimasmith wrote this paper while taking the class ENVS 307: The Economy of Nature and Nations, taught by Paul Erickson, associate professor of history; associate professor, environmental studies.
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Kennedy Odede ’12
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.
Lizzie Whitney ’19
Lizzie Whitney ’19, a College of Letters and German studies double major from California, is the recipient of a 2019 DAAD scholarship for study/research in Germany.
The Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, or German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) supports the internationalization of German universities and promotes German studies and the German language abroad. The study scholarship is presented to graduating seniors at the top of their class.
Whitney, who is applying to the University of Konstanz for graduate school, will use her DAAD scholarship to support her studies in comparative literature. The study scholarship also provides students with a monthly stipend plus funds for health insurance and travel costs.
“I’d also like to focus on the creation of a concept of German national identity through literature and literary confrontation with the Other, in whatever form that might be over the past few centuries,” she explained.
Since 1925, more than 1.9 million scholars in Germany and abroad have received DAAD funding.
The 2019-20 Fulbright award winners include, from top left, Jordan Legaspi ’19, Emma Porrazzo ’19, Katelin Murray ’19, Amad Amedy ’19, Stephanie Loui ’14, Hai Lun Tan ’18, and Ulysses Estrada ’17. Not pictured is Ellie Martin ’16, Emma Distler ’19, and Rachel Yanover ’19.
Ten Wesleyan seniors and recent alumni are the recipients of 2019-20 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships (ETA) and Fulbright Open Study/Research Awards.
The English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Programs place Fulbrighters in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to local English teachers. ETAs help teach English language while serving as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. The age and academic level of the students varies by country, ranging from kindergarten to university level.
Applicants for Open Study/Research Awards design their own projects and will typically work with advisors at foreign universities or other institutes of higher education. The study/research awards are available in approximately 140 countries.
Jordan Legaspi ’19 received an ETA to Taiwan. Legaspi is a McNair scholar and a psychology major from California.
Ellie Martin ’16 received an ETA to Colombia. She is an anthropology and Hispanic literatures and cultures double major.
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In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.
Wesleyan in the News
1. The Middletown Press: “Wesleyan Students Helping Former Prisoners to Gain Job Skills”
Wesleyan Students for Ending Mass Incarceration (SEMI) is a group of students working to help formerly incarcerated individuals acclimate back into society by providing them with job skills. The goal, according to member Asiyah Herrero ’22, is “making re-entry into the workforce a little bit easier. There are usually a lack of resources when people get out of prison, and starting to look for work, especially because there are a lot of jobs that do discriminate or have discriminatory ideas about people who have been in prison.”
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Johan (Joop) Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, presented three papers during the Commission on Volcanic Lakes (CVL) program held March 18-20 in Taupo, New Zealand. The papers were coauthored by Wesleyan students, graduate students, recent alumni, and faculty.
The CVL is a scientific, nonprofit organization of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI), connecting researchers that seek to understand how volcanic lakes relate to volcanic activity and their hazards.
Varekamp, who also is the Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History and professor of earth and environmental studies, is a former leader of the CVL organization. In addition to delivering a keynote address, Varekamp was named the recipient of the 2019 IAVCEI Kusakabe Award.
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At left, Luke Lezhanskyy ’20, Sam Medrano ’19, Kati Young ’19, Joy Adedokun ’19, Shantel Sosa ’21, Rebeca Martinez ’20, Father Bill Wallace, and Adjunct Professor of Spanish Octavio Flores-Cuadra, gather at a fundraiser for Middletown’s ABC Women’s Center on April 4.
On April 4, students from Wesleyan for Women and Children (WesWAC) attended a fundraiser dinner banquet for ABC Women’s Center at St. Clement’s Castle in Portland, Conn. They were accompanied by University Roman Catholic Chaplain Father Bill Wallace, Adjunct Professor of Spanish Octavio Flores-Cuadra, and several members of the community.
ABC Women’s Center provides free and confidential pregnancy resources and services to women and families in the greater Middletown area. Since the nonprofit doesn’t receive federal funding, all services are supported by individual contributions, donations, and fundraisers.
The banquet’s theme was Strong As She. Proceeds will help ABC with its new initiatives such as group parenting classes.
“Attending the ABC Women’s Center banquet for the first time is one of my Wesleyan highlights,” said WesWAC member Sam Medrano ’19. “The passion, soul, and strength that I witnessed from the women who spoke at this life-affirming event is truly amazing. I’m proud to support a vital Middletown organization that women rely on for free pregnancy services.”
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Works by seniors in the Art Studio Program of Wesleyan’s Department of Art and Art History are on exhibit through April 28. Exhibitions change each week.
The Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday; noon to 7 p.m. on Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The show is free and open to the public.
The exhibit includes the following artwork on display April 2 through 7:
Cayla Blachman presented “Where To.”
Shirley See Yan Fang presented her exhibit titled “做得好.”
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Momi Afelin ’19 and Justin Kim ’19 are recipients of the 2019 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
Two Wesleyan seniors will spend a year abroad working on purposeful international discoveries as 2019 Thomas J. Watson Fellows.
Momi Afelin ’19 and Justin Kim ’19 are among 41 students from 40 partner institutions across the country to receive the prestigious fellowship. The Watson Fellowship is a rare window after college and pre-career for students to engage their deepest interests on a global scale. Fellows conceive original projects, execute them outside of the United States, and gain personal insight, perspective, and confidence.
Afelin, a biology and neuroscience and behavior double major, will spend her fellowship year working on a project titled “Island Innovation: Embodiment through Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” She will embed herself in five island countries in the Pacific and Caribbean including Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago and observe how geographic isolation and unique social structures of island communities demand innovation for survival and success.
Her curiosity in island innovation comes from growing up in Molokai, Hawaii.
“To grow up on an island is to grow up a problem solver,” she said. “I would like to explore how other islanders like myself are harnessing their innovation through social entrepreneurship or social innovation endeavors that address community issues.”
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During the Interfaith Service Trip held over spring break, representatives from Wesleyan volunteered at the Manna House Soup Kitchen in Newtown, N.J.
Wesleyan students and staff traveled to Johnsonburg, N.J., March 18-22 to participate in the fourth annual Office of Religious and Spiritual Life Interfaith Service Trip. The group had representation from the Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim communities.
The student participants included Nacala Gadsden ’21, Joy Adedokun ’19, Fitzroy Pablo Wickham ’21, Brynn Assignon ’20, and Fatima Sepulveda ’21. The trip was led by University Chaplain Rev. Tracy Mehr-Muska and Sandy Durosier ’13, area coordinator for residential life.
“The purpose of the trip was to engage in community service and learn about other faiths,” Mehr-Muska said.
The group stayed at the faith-based Johnsonburg Camp and Retreat Center and volunteered their time at the Barnyard Sanctuary in Johnsonburg; Trinity Methodist Church Thrift Shop in Hackettstown, N.J.; and Manna House Soup Kitchen in Newton, N.J.
“Each of these incredible nonprofits happened to be run by women, and the students were able to see the complexity and rewarding nature of developing and sustaining important, life-giving community organizations,” Mehr-Muska said.
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