Steve Scarpa

Wesleyan Facilities, Custodial Staff Celebrated through Performance

Rivera and Porquillo worked together, wiping down tables and vacuuming floors. They began with just introducing themselves

Last spring, Tamara Rivera ’21 job shadowed SMG employee Maria Porquillo, who has worked for more than two decades at Olin Library. Once a week, Rivera met Porquillo at the library to observe her movements and rhythms, and ultimately choreographed a piece for Porquillo to perform on stage. This fall, students will participate in a similar multidisciplinary dance project titled “WesWorks.”

Every day the workers of Wesleyan’s facilities staff labor to keep the University going in the most fundamental ways. Their work can often be invisible but without properly ventilated performance spaces, clean laboratories, and functional classrooms, just to give a few examples, the University would grind to a halt.

An upcoming multidisciplinary dance project titled “WesWorks” takes the rituals and movements of their days and creates choreography that transforms the ordinary, mundane, and skillful movements of work into a performance accompanied by live, original music and stories told in the workers’ voices. The performance will take place outdoors on Andrus Field in mid-October.

“I hope the community leaves with an elevated understanding of what our staff does. This is a celebration of our employees and a recognition of a workforce that’s often not recognized,” said Jennifer Calienes, interim director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.

“Wesworks” builds on seven years of Forklift Danceworks’ engagement with Wesleyan through the College of the Environment and the Center for the Arts and was developed through a series of residencies and intensive course collaborations over the past year and a half.  During the Spring 2021 semester, students job shadowed facilities workers, learning just what it took to the keep the campus running smoothly.

Mikaela Marcotullio ’23 job shadowed SMG employee Lloyd Jones in Usdan University Center.

This fall, Allison Orr, the choreographer and artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, distinguished fellow in the College of Environment, will teach her ENVS376 course—The Artist in the Community: Civic Engagement and Collaborative Dancemaking from which students will learn techniques of community art practice and help develop and support the “WesWorks” performance.

Wesleyan’s Englehart ’69 Makes Life in Comics

Steve Englehart ’69

It’s Spring 1966. Steve Englehart, a first-year Wesleyan student, is hanging around his dorm when one of his floormates thrusts a copy of Spider-Man at him saying, “You have to read this. This is great.”

Like many students his age at that time, Englehart read comic books as a child but thought that he’d grown out of them. They were considered “downmarket”—a lot of them weren’t particularly good.

Englehart read it through in one shot and sensed something very different than the wooden characters and corny storylines he encountered as a kid. Marvel had gone through a renaissance in the 1960s, embracing newfound depth and complexity in its storytelling. “I loved what (Spider-Man creator) Stan Lee was doing, the irreverence and the world-building with all of the characters interacting with each other,” he said.

The seeds for an unusual career path were being planted.

Englehart ’69 Creator of Newest Marvel Movie Hero

Shang-Chi

After nearly 50 years, Steve Englehart ’69 will see one of his original Marvel characters make its big-screen debut this fall. Englehart’s creation, martial arts master Shang-Chi, is the lead character of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” starring Simu Liu, perhaps best known for his work in the Canadian comedy “Kim’s Convenience.” The film debuted Aug. 15 in Los Angeles and will be released nationwide on Sept. 3.

Although Englehart was not involved in the movie production, he sees core elements of the backstory he created in the trailer for the upcoming film. In Englehart’s original story Shang-Chi is raised to be a premier martial artist and believes his father is a benevolent humanitarian. He discovers, however, that his father is in reality an international criminal (in early iterations his father was the fictional villain Fu Manchu). Shang-Chi commits to put an end to his father’s nefarious work.

“My bottom line is that if you take one of my stories and you treat it with respect, if you kind of go with what’s there, then you can make all sorts of changes along with the way and that’s okay by me because I understand it is a different medium, a different time,” he said.

New Access-to-Justice Class Helps Students Enact Changes in Civil Law

In-person members of Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark’s access-to-justice course, with class mascot Smudge the corgi in the arms of the course’s community partner liaison, Zach Zarnow of the National Center for State Courts. Photo courtesy of Armando Alvarez.

Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark’s aspiring law students arrived at her new service-learning class with a typical set of assumptions about how American courts work: Lawyers do most of the talking, decisions by the Supreme Court are followed to a tee by lower courts, and people who have legal problems tend to resolve them.

However, most individuals’ interactions with the law come through small civil actions—lawsuits, traffic court, and evictions, for example. For many people who live in low-income neighborhoods, not only is finding legal assistance difficult, but when they do access the law, often representing themselves in court, it might make their problem worse.

Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark

Alyx Mark

Thanks to Mark’s new access-to-justice course, offered last spring and planned for every two years, Wesleyan students got a new perspective and a chance to help enact real change. “Wesleyan has a lot to offer to the local community, as well as more globally. We have these entrepreneurial, enthusiastic, and sharp students who want to do good things in the world. So, it’s not a hard sell to go to a community partner and say, ‘Do you want a team of researchers to help you solve this problem?’” Mark said.

After a year of planning, Mark partnered with a civil justice funder, a national civil justice advocacy organization, and a local provider of legal services to offer students practical opportunities to wrestle with systemic issues. Mark also recruited a subject-matter expert, Zach Zarnow of the National Center for State Courts, to provide students with a practitioner’s perspective in their weekly meetings. Mark published her thoughts on the project recently in ABA Journal.

“The community partners articulated what they needed, like a wish list of different types of projects that will help them advance their work. What was nice about the projects is that they all required a different set of research skills,” Mark said. “The community partners loved talking to the students.”

Ospina Explores the Struggle of Searching for Community in New Book

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish, recently authored a book of short stories titled Variations on the Body. (Photo by Simon Parra)

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish, believes that writing fiction is another powerful way to engage the subjects that have driven her academic work—memory, violence, and culture.

“Right now, I think that this is the way that I am going to continue exploring intellectual issues that interest me, including those related to history and politics,” said Ospina, who previously published a book of cultural criticism.

Her debut book of short stories, Variations on the Body, has been translated into English from Spanish by Heather Cleary and was published in the United States in July by Coffee House Press. The book (Azares del Cuerpo) had been previously published in Colombia (where is it already in its third edition), Chile, Spain, and Italy, receiving raves from critics.

In six loosely connected stories, Ospina, who was born in Bogotá and is also associate professor of Latin American studies, follows women and girls from different parts of Colombian society. Through meticulous prose, characters struggle with searching for a community after migrating and with the marks that that voyage leaves on the body. It’s a book filled with tactile imagery and almost a journalistic approach in how it documents the lives of its characters.

Davison Art Center Lends Rare 16th-Century Print to the Met

Martino Rota, Alessandro de Medici and Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici of Tuscany

The Davison Art Center is loaning the print, “Alessandro de’ Medici and Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici of Tuscany,” to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a recent Medici exhibit.The print, engraved by Martino Rota, was donated to Wesleyan by art collector and Davison Art Center namesake George W. Davison (BA 1892) in 1943. (Open access image courtesy of the Davison Art Center. Photo by M. Johnston)

It’s common today to speak of building one’s brand—everyone from world leaders to precocious teens are worried about their image, shaping their personalities online, creating a persona that straddles reality and the imagined.

For the Medici family, the 16th-century rulers of Florence and Tuscany and patrons of some of the most famous Renaissance artwork, the tools to accomplish this were very different from those of today. However, the objective was the same.

Wesleyan’s Davison Arts Center (DAC) is participating in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512-1570,” currently on display through October 11. The exhibition pulls together more than 90 works, including portraits, engravings, busts, medals, and armor, to describe the rise to power of the Medici family after a period of exile, and to show how they used culture to shape public perception.

The DAC is lending a rare 16th-century print commemorating Medici rule over Tuscany. The Met requested the work in early 2020.

“I find this stuff endlessly fascinating. It’s amazing how these fragile pieces of paper, and all art work, survive across the centuries. To be able to work with these [works] and share them with students and the public is something I am really grateful for,” said Miya Tokumitsu, curator of the Davison Art Center.

Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Helps Local Students Prepare for College

upward bound

Several high school seniors from Middletown, Meriden, and New Britain, Conn. recently gathered to celebrate their graduation from Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Math-Science program. Ninety-four percent of those who participated in the program are planning to attend college next fall. Wesleyan’s Upward Bound program was co-founded by the university’s first black dean of the college Edgar Beckham ’58 who hoped local, low-income students could have the opportunity to consider attending college.

For many first-generation and low-income students, simply the idea of attending college can be daunting. The cost of higher education might be prohibitive. The application process can be complicated and overwhelming.

Even with a committed support network, it can all be too much.

“Oftentimes for first-generation students, college is not something that’s expected … It is now starting to be a little bit more like ‘hey, you should go to college’ but it is not as widespread as in more affluent communities,” said Miguel Peralta, director of Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Math-Science program.

The Upward Bound Math-Science program is pulling down those barriers for high school students in Middletown, Meriden, and New Britain, Conn. In 2021, 30 of the 32 students who graduated from the program are moving on to higher education. Twenty-six of those students are bachelor-degree bound. Over 100 students participate in the program in the three towns, with most joining after their first year of high school and staying through graduation.

It’s part of a continued successful trend, with approximately 90 percent of Upward Bound participants over the past five years continuing their education. “This is the level of success we are accustomed to,” Peralta said. “We are trying to help students not just go to college but to thrive there as well.”

“We have had students at Wesleyan who took part in Upward Bound here in the local area (and have done very well here!), and—since it’s a federal program with chapters across the country—we have also had Wesleyan students who took part in Upward Bound programs in their own home areas,” said April Ruiz, dean for academic equity, inclusion, and success. “Upward Bound does a wonderful job helping students to feel informed and empowered as they consider pursuing higher education.”

Wesleyan University Magazine Honored with Prestigious CASE Award

Wesleyan University Magazine won the Silver Award in the category of alumni/general interest magazines.

The Fall 2020 issue of Wesleyan University Magazine recently won a Silver Award from CASE.

After wrapping up a successful Spring 2020 issue showcasing the intellectual vibrancy and risk-taking Wesleyans employ in their creative pursuits, the Wesleyan University Magazine team thought they had their next issue’s subject all figured out.

With a highly divided political landscape and a contentious presidential election looming, it was clear that the next issue should focus on Wesleyan’s long history of civic engagement and the University’s recently announced commitment to Engage 2020—an initiative aimed at encouraging widespread participation in the political process.

But then COVID-19 hit. And just as the world was busy adapting to a new and scary reality, the University Communications team also found themselves pivoting—not only to conceptualizing, writing, and producing a print magazine during a time of crisis but also to capturing this new reality while continuing to look ahead to an election that suddenly seemed to have even deeper ramifications.

The result was one of the boldest and best-received issues in the magazine’s history—and recognition from the prestigious CASE Circle of Excellence Awards. Wesleyan University Magazine won the Silver Award in the category of alumni/general interest magazines.