Natalie Robichaud ’14

Sterner ’97 Speaks on NPR about Vanishing Downtown Hartford

As part of the Connecticut NPR affiliate WPKT’s program, Where We Live, Daniel Sterner ’97, author of a book about historic downtown Hartford, recently discussed historic buildings that have disappeared and what has taken their place. Program host John Dankosky, observed, “Every city changes over time. But Hartford’s downtown seems to be slowly disappearing.” Sterner points out that all cities are always in flux; older buildings are always being replaced by newer ones. He describes any typical city block, even the one on Trumbull Street from which the program was broadcast, as “layered:” Some buildings date back to the 1800s, some to the turn of the century, some to the 1920s, and some to more modern times.

Sterner’s book on this subject, Vanished Downtown Hartford, provides a tour of the downtown area that traces the development of the city from the early 1800s to present day and raises the issue facing cities today: “what should be demolished and what should be saved?” Practicality and beauty occasionally clash, especially when it comes to parking lots, which seem to be overtaking Hartford, a phenomenon noted by Sterner and others on the radio program. As Sterner points out, a city needs parking lots, but flat lots compromise the architectural beauty of the streetscape. In a July article, Sterner told the Hartford Courant, “Hartford is famous for having so much town down. It’s one thing if you replace one building with another, but when it becomes a parking lot, that’s another thing.”  Some of the changes that Sterner documents in his book are the replacement of the YMCA with a parking lot, Constitution Plaza replacing an entire neighborhood, and the Old State House finding new life as a museum.

Sterner, who was a history major at Wesleyan, encourages everyone to “reflect on what should be built in the future and which of today’s historic treasures should not be lost.”

Playwright/Actor Buck ’99 Workshops “HKEELEE (Talk to Me)”

Leila Buck ’99

Leila Buck ’99

Writer and performer Leila Buck ’99 shared the latest exploration of her play, “HKEELEE (Talk to Me),” a work-in-progress, at New York City’s Culture Project on Monday, July 29 as part of the Women Center Stage Festival. The solo, personalized play resonated with the audience members who stayed for an in-depth discussion after the show.

In the piece, Buck ties together moments that are specific to her life in the context of universal themes. She addresses her Lebanese grandmother’s memory loss; French and Arabic; music and dance as sometimes competing, sometimes complimentary markers of her Lebanese heritage and its complex history; the rising fear of and debate around the role of immigrants in America, particularly those of Arab or Muslim origin; and much more as she unpacks a suitcase full of meaningful objects, recreating the process of moving her grandmother into an assisted living facility.

Describing her work, Buck said, “At its core, it’s a project about how we hold onto people and places we love—what we carry with us, what we leave behind, and how those choices come to shape who we are as individuals, families, communities and nations.”

During the event, Buck had the chance to experiment with audience participation through an informal sharing workshop. In the character of her grandmother, she offered the audience coffee as though they were visitors to her home, told a young man’s fortune by reading his cup, asked the meaning of words, directed each member to read one line of a poem written by Khalil Gibran to the children of Arab immigrants, and even received shouted answers to unasked questions.

Dance Department Moving to Cross Street in January

The former AME Zion Church on Cross Street is being remodeled this summer. Next January, it will house the Dance Department.

The former AME Zion Church on Cross Street is being remodeled this summer. The Dance Department will occupy the space in January 2014.

In January 2014, the Dance Department will move from its space in the Center for the Arts to a new studio and office space on Cross Street. This will allow Dance Department faculty and students to be closer to the Bessie Schönberg dance studio on Pine Street.

Construction at 160 Cross Street commenced July 9 with asbestos abatement and demolition of the interior finishes and walls. Interior framing begins Aug. 5. According to Alan Rubacha, director of Physical Plant, construction will be completed this fall.

Dance Department faculty and students are currently using two studios and other shared spaces. Some dance faculty are sharing offices due to the lack of space.

The new venue will house offices for all dance faculty. It will also create an opportunity for more dance performances since the studio will be equipped for lighting instruments, making it a suitable production space. With this multipurpose new space, the dance department will be more able to accommodate present and future student enrollment in dance classes, teaching and research of new dance technologies, and performances of student work, faculty directed concerts, and visiting artists and scholars.

The building, which neighbors Neon Deli and the Freeman Athletic Center, was constructed in 1978 by the AME Zion Church. The congregation has since moved to a new location on West Street. Wesleyan’s Cross Street Archeology Laboratory occupied the building’s basement for several years. On July 8, the lab relocated to a space inside the Physical Plant building on Long Lane.

The Theater Department will occupy the former CFA Dance Department space.

Zheng: “Wherever There Are Africans, There Is Good Music”

Su Zheng, associate professor of music, associate professor of East Asian studies, spoke in a recent China Daily USA article about the number of African musical artists in China and how their presence is “creating new types of harmony between the two lands.”

Zheng starts off by pointing out that “Wherever there are Africans, there is good music – just like wherever there are Chinese, there is good food.”

When she discovered that there were no reports on the presence of African music in China, she decided to research the music of the African diaspora herself. The research completed by Zheng and her team of three graduate students from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music shows, while it seems improbable, that African music will greatly influence Chinese music at some point.

Jenkins Speaks about Indonesian Island, Oral History Research in Jakarta Post

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins ’64, professor of theater, recently wrote an op-ed for The Jakarta Post about Run, a small Indonesian island. Run was “involved in a war between maritime empires” due to the presence of nutmeg on the island. While “the historic memory of Run’s inhabitants is vague, their pride… in the importance of their island’s past is vivid.” The residents of the small island no longer make a living with the spice trade and must have other jobs to provide for their families, but nutmeg is still a large part of the culture. “The small pale yellow nutmeg fruit still hangs from the boughs of the trees that surround the rumah besi” and “the sweet smell of the spice still permeates the island’s air.” Several locals wish for a way to preserve the history of their island so that the story is not lost for the younger generations. Read the article online here.

Jenkins also is featured in the July 15 edition of The Jakarta Post speaking about his oral history research and collaboration with artist Made Wianta. Jenkin’s and Wianta’s project commemorates the historic connections between Run and Manhattan, of which most residents of both islands are unaware. When asked about the history of Run before the 20th century, most locals will respond similarly to Kajiri, a 75-year-old farmer: “That was before I was born and no one is left alive who remembers those things.” Jenkins and Wianta see the deep impact and contributions that the Spice Islands and Run have had and made on global culture and the pride that Indonesians deserve to have about their history. The goal of the collaborative project that will include a book, an art installation, and theatrical performances that all incorporate the perspectives of Run’s farmers, is to focus on the island’s history from an artistic angle. “…if we look at the past only through the lens of politics we can get stuck in arguments that will never be resolved. Maybe by looking at the past through the prism of art, we can understand history in a new way and create a future we will also be able to feel proud of.” Read the article online here.


Nelson ’96 Innovating Cupcakes, Advertising

Candace Nelson '96 now offers ice cream.

Sprinkles’ Candace Nelson ’96 now offers ice cream.

Vanity Fair says that Candace Nelson ’96, who reinvented America’s opinion on cupcakes, “is to cupcakes today what Debbi Fields was to cookies in the 1980s.” Nelson’s company, Sprinkles, known for its constant innovation, premiered the world’s first cupcake food truck and cupcake ATM. Wistful for the days of old-fashioned ice cream shops while surrounded by frozen yogurt trends, Nelson decided not to limit herself to cupcakes and introduced slow churned ice cream to her stores. Her most decadent dessert combines her two products; the Sprinkles sandwich is a unique treat of a scoop of ice cream enclosed by two delicious cupcakes.

Sprinkles on Facebook

Sprinkles on Facebook

Sprinkles doesn’t stop the fun at sweet treats; Nelson and her team have a lively but still classy social media presence to advertise their  options. With an exciting YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter, Sprinkles shows off its cupcakes with mouthwatering photos and catchy captions. Nelson has figured out an effective way to advertise her product without being pushy and to spread the news of special discounts and items.

“Sprinkles created a niche and consistent brand voice online, leading to devout fans and social support,” she said.

Read the Vanity Fair article on Candace Nelson here or the Business 2 Community article about her advertising strategy here.

Morgan ’94 Founder of National Students Poet Program

Olivia Morgan '94

Olivia Morgan ’94

Olivia Morgan ’94, after being appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), founded the National Student Poets Program (NSPP), the country’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work.

According to the PCAH, students who engage in school through the arts have better attendance records, better performance, and are more likely to graduate. Morgan decided to use her position on the PCAH to engage students without a strain on resources.

“The amazing thing about poetry, or writing of any kind—you don’t need musical instruments, you don’t technology, it’s just a pen and paper,” Morgan said. “So anybody could do it, and it could translate into a life skill that would benefit you for a lifetime: that ability to recognize something, to observe the world in which you’re living and communicate it, whether to yourself or others.”

First class of National Student Poets at the Scholastic Awards ceremony.

First class of National Student Poets at the Scholastic Awards ceremony.

In an interview with Humanities Insights, Morgan stated the two goals of the NSPP: “to recognize the value of the existing talent of our most dedicated teen poets and then to use their unique voices and experience to reach students and whole communities that don’t already have outlets and programs and pipelines to national support and recognition.”

The programs recognizes excellence in writing by choosing five National Student Poets from the national medalists in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards who are rewarded with college scholarships and opportunities to present their work at various events throughout their term.

Craige ’09 awarded SustainUS Lead Now Fellowship

Toni Craige ’09

Toni Craige ’09

Toni Craige ’09 received the SustainUS Lead Now Fellowship for her “innovative approach to women’s education about reusable feminine products.” Toni is the co-founder of Sustainable Cycles.

The fellowship is awarded annually for demonstrated potential to advance sustainable development in communities and includes yearlong training and mentorship from SustainUS and a $1,000 grant.

Sustainable Cycles educates women about reusable menstrual products through bicycle tours. Craige, together with friend and co-founder Sarah Konner, first toured down the West Coast on a three-month bicycle trip, handing out 300 menstrual cups donated by from manufacturers, and living on $4 a day.

“We are working to catalyze a grassroots, person-to-person revolution away from single-use, disposable menstrual products to reusable, sustainable options,” Craige said.

Read more about SustainUS and Sustainable Cycles here.

Kogan ’98 Creates “Emotional Bookshelf” to Spur Smiles

Nataly Kogan ’98

Nataly Kogan ’98

In her pursuit of happiness, Nataly Kogan ’98 found her way to the positions of CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Happier. Kogan’s life before Wesleyan was anything but easy: She escaped her native country, Soviet Russia, as a Jewish refugee at age 13 and made it to the United States after jumping from one refugee camp to another  across Europe. Even after achieving the “American Dream,” Nataly Kogan wasn’t happy. She believes that “you can’t actually be happy, but you can always be happier,” so she spends her days spreading good cheer to as many people as possible with her new startup, Happier.

Happier is “an emotional bookshelf in your pocket,” a social network through which users upload anything that makes them smile: small day-to-day success stories, photos of their favorite things, anything cheerful. These items are then available on a mobile device to be accessed in a time of emotional need. Kogan informed CNN that since the app launched in February, users have shared over one million happy moments. Kogan has high hopes for Happier, hoping to reach the fame and influence of Oprah or Martha Stewart, possibly by creating Happier products such as clothing or even an airline. Her big dreams are driven by a simple motto: “Life is made of moments. Choose to create and collect the happy ones.”

Kogan and her start-up have been featured by CNN, The Huffington Post, and The NY Times.

Shapiro Translates Choppin’s Creole Poems

Book translated by Norm Shapiro.

Book translated by Norm Shapiro.

Professor of Romance Languages Norman Shapiro, who translated La Fontaine into English, recently translated most of New Orleans poet Jules Choppin’s poems for New Orleans Poems in Creole and French. The book, published by Second Line Press in August 2013, presents a bilingual collection of forgotten treasures of 19th century francophone American literature.

Choppin was a well-known poet who had been published in New Orleans papers as well as Comptes-rendus de l’Athénée Louisianais, a 19th-century Louisianan literary journal.

Several of Choppin’s works are inspired by La Fontaine’s good-humored fables and written in “sprightly Lousisana Creole.”

Order the book online here.

Burke’s Paper on Lamprey Development Published in PNAS

A paper co-written by Professor of Biology Ann Burke, “Body wall development in lamprey and a new perspective on the origin of vertebrate paired fins,” was published in the July issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Burke and her colleagues investigated the sea lamprey and the Japanese lamprey, comparing “the embryonic development of both these jawless fish to jawed animals — a shark, the catshark, and a salamander, the axolotl.” The abstract of the paper states, “Classical hypotheses regarding the evolutionary origin of paired appendages propose transformation of precursor structures (gill arches and lateral fin folds) into paired fins. . . . We focus on the evolutionary history of the somatopleure to gain insight into the tissue context in which paired fins first appeared. Lampreys diverged from other vertebrates before the acquisition of paired fins and provide a model for investigating the preappendicular condition. We present vital dye fate maps that suggest the somatopleure is eliminated in lamprey as the LPM is separated from the ectoderm and sequestered to the coelomic linings during myotome extension. We also examine the distribution of postcranial mesoderm in catshark and axolotl. In contrast to lamprey, our findings support an LPM contribution to the trunk body wall of these taxa, which is similar to published data for amniotes. Collectively, these data lead us to hypothesize that a persistent somatopleure in the lateral body wall is a gnathostome synapomorphy, and the redistribution of LPM was a key step in generating the novel developmental module that ultimately produced paired fins. These embryological criteria can refocus arguments on paired fin origins and generate hypotheses testable by comparative studies on the source, sequence, and extent of genetic redeployment.”

Learn more:


Climate Scientist Nurhati ’05 Dives for Science

Intan Suci Nurhati '05 prepares equipment for coral drilling. By researching Singapore's corals, she hopes to gain insight into climatic changes in the region. (Photo by Alex Westcott/TODAY)

Intan Suci Nurhati ’05 prepares equipment for coral drilling. By researching Singapore’s corals, she hopes to gain insight into climatic changes in the region. (Photo by Alex Westcott/TODAY)

Postdoctoral Associate Intan Suci Nurhati ’05 and others from the Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) are the first team to drill for coral samples in Singapore waters. Nurhati is a climate scientist but she works alongside a marine biologist and a professor of ocean geochemistry, creating “an interesting synergy where [they] work on different topics” but use the same material – corals.

As a climate scientist, Nurhati’s main focus is changes in the climate that have been recorded by the coral. “By studying the chemistry of corals, you can tell changes in temperature, which is vital if you want to study the rate of ocean warming,” she said. As important as climate change is, Nurhati insists that “as a society, what affects us more is rainfall. If we have flooding or droughts, that will really affect us and endanger our food security.”

Coral is used to study environmental changes due to its long life of up to 100 years that yields an extended and detailed record of data.

“If you study the environment, most of the environmental issues we face today require a longer record (for research purposes). For example, the study of global warming needs temperature measures, but we have been measuring temperature continuously via satellite for the past 30 years, at most,” she said. While it has a long lifetime, coral also grows very quickly, allowing researchers to obtain monthly data with precision.

At Wesleyan, Nurhati majored in earth and environmental science, with Professor Suzanne O’Connell advising Nurhati on her thesis, Spatial and Temporal Variability of the Indonesian Throughflow Sediments Possible Indicators of Climate-Induced Hydrologic Changes. Nurharti earned her Ph.D from Georgia Institute of Technology. She also was a Freeman Scholar at Wesleyan.

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