Randi Alexandra Plake

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News

  1. Inside Higher Ed: “Contagious Civic Engagement”

In this essay, Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth ’78 calls for a “virtuous contagion” to stimulate voting and other forms of civic engagement among young people, and writes about how this can still be possible at a time of social distancing. “The best way to attack cynicism, apathy or voter suppression is through authentic civic engagement between elections,” he writes. “One of the great things about this kind of engagement is that it is contagious. As we replicate efforts to bring people into the political process, we create habits of engagement and participation. Concern for the public sphere—like a virus—can spread. Usually this happens through face-to-face interaction, but now we must turn to virtual tools—notorious in recent years for being deployed to misinform or stir hatred—to strengthen networks for democracy.”

2. WSHU Public Radio’s “Off the Path from New York to Boston”: “Be(a)man”

Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07 is interviewed for this NPR podcast, which examines the histories behind sites from New York to Boston. He discusses the Beman family, who founded the Beman Triangle neighborhood of freed African American slaves, as well as Middletown’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. “There’s so much amnesia around New England slavery,” said Nasta. “But the other part of it is how [the Bemans] emerged from enslavement by the 1800s, built free communities, built free churches, forged the Underground Railroad. And if you think about it, the church that they founded is still going strong two centuries later.”

3. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education: “Celebrating Women in the Academy”

Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor, who serves as faculty director of the McNair Program, is honored as one of the Top 35 Women in Higher Education. The profile notes: “Her research group has included over 75 students to date, spanning high schoolers to Ph.D. students, with women and other underrepresented students comprising more than three-quarters of her lab members. In addition to her research, she has been a passionate advocate for diversity, lending time and energy to provide opportunities in science for female, minority and low-income students. Taylor was awarded the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching for her passion and dedication to supporting the academic and personal development of all of her students. Her track record of mentoring diverse students culminated in being named Wesleyan University’s McNair Program faculty director in 2018. Beyond Wesleyan, she founded and continues to run a Girls in Science camp for elementary through middle school aged girls, which highlights the diversity of women that exists in science and raises funds to enable nearly half of the students to participate tuition free.”

4. Associated Press: “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime? Echoes of ’30s in Viral Crisis?”

Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, spoke to the AP for an article comparing the current economic crisis, sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Great Depression of the 1930s.“There are more levers now for the government,” he said. “There’s a lot now that the government can do that it wouldn’t even have thought of doing in the 1930s.” One example is a rarely used 1950s-era level that Trump invoked last week, the Defense Production Act, which empowers the government to marshal private industry to accelerate production of key supplies in the name of national security.

5. The New Yorker: “Breaking Transmission: The Fight Against the Coronavirus Offers a Strategy for Cutting Carbon”

Citizen Outlaw, a book by Charles Barber, writer-in-residence in Letters, was cited in this article on interrupting cycles to solve serious problems as diverse as gang violence, the coronavirus, and climate change. “Jumping in at exactly the right time makes all the difference,” explains Barber, who has written extensively on mental-health and criminal-justice issues. He cites studies showing that, otherwise, a single death can lead to a cascade of violence. In an Illinois study, for instance, “a single incident . . . was linked through the victim’s social networks to 469 separate violent incidents.”

6. The Hartford Courant: “Learning from Home and Learning from School Have a Lot in Common”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of Psychology Steve Stemler offers advice to parents who are now responsible for educating their children at home due to COVID-19-related school shutdowns. Drawing on his research on the purpose of school, he writes: “Many school districts are providing families with some form of online curriculum that includes instruction on all the academic subjects covered in schools. But, as educators know, schools strive to develop not just strong readers and mathematicians but also humans who are emotionally resilient and socially capable, who will contribute to the world as good citizens. Parents may have more to teach their children than they think.”

7. The New York Review of Books: “Pandemic Journal: Michael S. Roth, Middletown, Connecticut

Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth ’78 wrote a first-person account of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the University. He said, “Wesleyan is a residential school, one with a strong sense of engaged and community-based learning. Now, faculty are giving seminars and singing lessons at a distance, but we all know that the fabric of liberal education here comes from mutual entanglement.”

Alumni in the News

1. NPR: “David Biello: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory

In this experimental episode of TED Radio Hour, TED Science Curator David Biello ’95 takes listeners to uncharted places, such as outer space, the deep ocean, and our own brains.

2. Rolling Stone: “‘Blow the Man Down’: A Maine Noir with Money, Murder and Matriarchy

The debut feature film from Bridget Savage Cole ’05 and Danielle Krudy ’07, now streaming on Amazon, is reviewed. The New England noir’s review is favorable: “Blow the Man Down winds its way around the notion that behind every small town’s facade is a whole mess of secrets.”

3. Jazz Journal: “Chris Dingman: Embrace

Chris Dingman ’02 was interviewed about his latest album, Embrace. Embrace received a good review in the article. The album was referred to as “a beautifully warm ensemble sound, and the publicity cites influences from West African traditions and South Indian music, which Dingman has studied.”

4. Cord Cutters News: “Apple’s First Original Movie ‘The Banker’ Is Now Available to Stream

AppleTV+ released its first major movie, The Banker, starring Samuel L. Jackson, produced by Joel Viertel ’97. The article says, “The strong acting seems to be enough to carry the film – it got a 100% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.”

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News

1. USA Today: “America Has a History of Lynching, but it’s Not a Federal Crime. The House Just Voted to Change That”

Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language Ashraf Rushdy is interviewed on the topic of legislation that would make lynching a federal crime. In the interview he called lynching “the original hate crime.” “Lynching is a blot on the history of America,” he said. “But it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

2. The New York Times: “Starbucks Baristas Accuse Service Company of Abuse and Pay Gaps”

Associate Professor of Sociology Jonathan Cutler is interviewed about transgender issues in labor organizations as immigrant, transgender, and black baristas face discrimination at airport Starbucks. “Organized labor often lives or dies by its ability to tap into broader social movements,” he said. “In this case, you’re seeing the most public effort to organize around transgender issues.”

3. The Washington Post: “Does Money Even Matter? And Other Questions You May Have About Bloomberg’s Half-Billion-Dollar Failed Candidacy”

PBS Documentary by Weisberg ’75, P’05 Set to Premiere on April 6

Roger Weisberg ’75, P’05 (Source: brokenplacesfilm.com)

This April, PBS will premiere Broken Places, a documentary that explores why some children are severely damaged by early adversity while others are able to thrive. Broken Places is written, produced, and directed by veteran documentary filmmaker Roger Weisberg ’75, P’05, whose previous PBS documentaries have won over 150 awards, including Emmy, DuPont-Columbia, and Peabody awards, as well as two Academy Award nominations.

Broken Places revisits abused and neglected children that Weisberg and his team profiled decades ago. The film interweaves longitudinal narratives with commentary from a few internationally renowned experts to help viewers better understand the devastating impact of childhood adversity as well as the inspiring characteristics of resilience.

In addition to shedding light on exciting new developments in neuroscience that help explain the dramatic outcomes that the film reveals, these experts share their insights into the people and systems that either failed the film’s main subjects or helped them overcome the formidable obstacles they encountered.

Broken Places is Weisberg’s 33rd national public television documentary. It will premier at 10 p.m. on Monday, April 6 on PBS (check local listings) and pbs.org.

brokenplaces

Brady ’15 Wins National Prize for Social Innovation for Nonprofit Work

Aletta Brady '15

Aletta Brady ’15, founder of Our Climate Voices, was honored with an Innovation Prize by the J.M. Kaplan Fund. (Photo courtesy of the J.M. Kaplan Fund)

Aletta Brady ’15 saw the power in collective storytelling to launch social justice campaigns such as Black Lives Matters and the #MeToo movements. Knowing that these movements were successful because of the power of words, Brady connected the idea of storytelling to the climate crisis, launching a climate-justice organization that was recently recognized by the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

The J.M. Kaplan Fund awarded Brady’s Our Climate Voices the J.M.K. Innovation Prize for its use of digital storytelling as a new model in the environmental field. The prize is awarded biennially to 10 nonprofit and mission-driven for-profit organizations tackling America’s most pressing challenges through social innovation. Each awardee receives up to $175,000 over three years and participates in a learning collaborative of fellow innovators to support their journey as change agents.

Volcanoes Caused Ecological Disruption Says Thomas in Nature Article

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and research professor of earth and environmental sciences, is a co-author of a paper titled “Very Large Release of Mostly Volcanic Carbon During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum,” published in the weekly science journal Nature on Aug. 31.

The study focused on Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, a surface warming event associated with ecological disruption that occurred about 56 million years ago, releasing a large amount of carbon. The researchers combined boron and carbon isotope data in an Earth system model and found that the source of carbon was much larger than previously thought.

Most of the carbon, Thomas and her colleagues discovered, was probably released by volcanism during the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean when Greenland separated from Europe.

The paper also was cited in another Nature article, on PhysOrg and on Science Daily.

Alpert ’82 Snags First-Ever Emmy for Outstanding Casting

Sasha Alpert ’82 won the Primetime Emmy Award for casting A&E’s Born This Way. (Photo courtesy of Bunim/Murray Productions)

At the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 17, Sasha Alpert ’82, CSA, was awarded the Emmy for the Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program for A&E’s original docuseries Born This Way.

The series follows seven young adults diagnosed with Down syndrome who pursue personal and professional success and try to defy expectations, according to A&E’s website.

Born This Way earned a total of three Emmy wins, going into the evening with six nominations. It was the television show to receive the inaugural award for reality casting, a move that recognizes the process of casting an unscripted show.

“I am thrilled to have won the first Emmy given for reality casting, and especially thrilled that it was for Born this Way,” Alpert said. “Bringing the story of young adults with Down syndrome to television has been an incredible experience. Many people have a story to tell, and by creating a show with a diverse group of people we vastly expand our ability to tell compelling stories.”

Alpert is known for her work in casting reality television shows, such as The Real World and Project Runway, as well as in producing numerous documentaries and specials for PBS, CBS, MTV, TBS, and Disney Channel. The winner of Primetime Emmy Awards, she has had 11 nominations, including a News and Documentary Emmy Award for her work on Valentine Road (2013).

Niraula MA ’18, Redfield Lead Team in Discovery of 3 Super-Earths

A team of scientists from Wesleyan, led by Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and graduate student Prajwal Niraula MA’18, discovered three super-Earths transiting around a nearby star, just 98 light-years from Earth. This NASA-generated image was created to depict 55 Cancri e, a super-Earth 40 light-years away from Earth.

A team of scientists from Wesleyan discovered three super-Earths transiting around a nearby star, 98 light-years away. The NASA-generated image above depicts a different super-Earth: 55 Cancri e, discovered in 2004.

A team of scientists from Wesleyan, led by Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and graduate student Prajwal Niraula MA ’18, has co-authored a paper on the discovery of three planets, or super-Earths, transiting around a nearby star, just 98 light-years away.

“Super-Earths are slightly larger than Earth, and the three of them straddle the divide between the rocky planets like Earth and ice giants like Neptune,” explains Redfield.

These planets were found using the Kepler Space Telescope. “Kepler has found thousands of exoplanets these last eight years, but this is the closest planetary system that Kepler has ever found, although closer planetary systems have been found using different telescopes,” says Redfield.

Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program Wraps Up Summer Program

Seventy-nine high school students attended the summer session of Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program. (Photo by Cybele Moon)

This summer, high school students from Middletown and surrounding areas were immersed in college life, often collaborating with faculty and staff across campus, during the summer session of Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program. From an overnight stay on campus, to a field trip to Philadelphia to visit colleges, opportunities to get a feel for college life were plenty.

Wesleyan University’s Pre-College Access Program is application-based and is developed to enhance the academic skills and preparation of talented high school students who have an interest in pursuing higher education.

“Our programs tailor to low-income and first-generation college students,” explained Miguel Peralta, director of Pre-College Access Programs and Upward Bound Math-Science at Wesleyan. “Two-thirds of our participants are both.”

Serving 79 students from Middletown, Meriden and New Britain and running from June 22 to Aug. 1, the Pre-College Access Program is made possible by the federally funded TRIO program and designed to strengthen the math and science skills of high school students from Meriden and New Britain. Middletown students are served by Wesleyan funds and private foundations.

Saaka Premieres Duet Choreography Work at Spring Faculty Dance Concert

shake-event

Artist in Residence Iddi Saaka will perform a dance duet featuring Rachel Boggia, associate professor of dance at Bates College for the Spring Faculty Dance Concert on May 5-6.

Over two nights in May, Wesleyan Dance Department Artist in Residence Iddi Saaka will premiere Shake, a dance duet featuring Rachel Boggia, associate professor of dance at Bates College.

According to Saaka, Shake is a rambunctious and tender duet born out of a nine-year friendship between himself and Boggia. Their first choreographed work features their shared love of vibratory movement, smooth breath, and cheesy humor. Influences include Ghanaian dance forms, American postmodern dance, fake tap dance, bad jokes, and life experiences.

This unique performance combines the elements of two distinct dance styles. Saaka, who teaches West African dance and directs the West African drumming and dance concert that is held in the fall and spring semesters at Wesleyan, explained, “The audience can expect to see two people from two different dance backgrounds—Ghanaian and American postmodern— express their friendship through movement and humor.”

The performance will take place in the CFA Theater on Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets, which are $6 for Wesleyan students and youth under 18, and $8 for all others, are available at the Wesleyan Box Office.

16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend to Feature a “Day of Percussion”

The 16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Weekend is on April 28-29, 2017.

The 16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend is on April 28-29.

At the end of April, Wesleyan University’s concert halls will be filled with the sound of rhythm during the 16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend, on Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29. The weekend will kick off with the traditional performance by the Wesleyan University Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Ensembles on Friday evening. New this year, on Saturday, there will be percussion clinics hosted by the Connecticut Percussive Arts Society, followed by an evening concert by Eli Fountain’s Percussion Discussion.

Jay Hoggard, professor of music and African American studies, explained the idea behind this ambitious project. “For the first time ever, we’re combining the Wesleyan student ensembles and the Connecticut Percussive Arts Society program,” he said. “We thought that would be an interesting combination, but instead of doing it over a series of multiple weekends, as we have done in the past, it’s going to be one day with multiple performances, about 20 minutes each.”

Hayat ’13 Discusses High-End Shoe Line, Liudmila Footwear

Najeeba Hayat '13

Najeeba Hayat ’13 is the founder, designer, and CEO of Liudmila Footwear.

Najeeba Hayat ’13, entrepreneur and designer, is gaining attention in the fashion industry for her designer shoe company, Liudmila Footwear, most recently in Voguewhich hailed her shoes as “stunning” and “fantastical.”

Produced in Italy, Liudmila shoes are designed with Victorian influences in mind. Hayat’s shoes are also praised for being comfortable to walk in, disregarding the cultural norm that women should suffer for fashion.

Hayat, who is originally from Kuwait, was a government major at Wesleyan, but found herself dreaming of designing shoes. In an interview with the Wesleyan Connection, Hayat said, “The Russian literature classes I took at Wesleyan were actually the biggest influence on my decision to follow my passion for design instead of pursuing a career related to my major.”

She credits the classes she took with Susanne Fusso, professor of Russian language and literature, for cultivating her love for the “unique, bizarre, striking characters of Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Chekov, and Sologub.”

Liudmila Shoe Drury Lane

Liudmila shoe from the new spring line

“One day, about a month or so before I graduated, we were discussing a speech given by a character in The Petty Demon that struck me by its passion, simplicity and its exact mirroring of my own sentiments,” she explained. “It was an exasperated paean to life and pleasure that in an instant turned me away from the career in consulting that I was actively pursuing at the time. I immediately decided to jump ship and move to Milan to study footwear.”

The Petty Demon is where Hayat found the inspiration to name her new company. Liudmila is one of the central sisters in the book. “As I was naming my brand, I went through many names, but was unsatisfied with all of them,” she said. “Liudmila’s speech kept coming back to me as my primary inspiration and so I decided to name the brand Liudmila in homage.”

Though her career took a different turn from the degree she earned, Hayat believes her liberal arts education prepared her for her role as founder, designer, and CEO. She said, “Even though the field I pursued had nothing to do with what I studied, all of the skills in analysis, problem-solving, and out of the box thinking that I developed at Wesleyan were crucial to my early success.”