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Yohe, Siry, Sultan Awarded Wesleyan Prize for Excellence in Research

At left, Wesleyan President Michael Roth '78 congratulates the recipients, Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies; Joseph Siry, the Kenan Professor of the Humanities; and Sonia Sultan, professor of biology.

At left, Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 and the recipients of the inaugural Wesleyan Prize for Excellence in Research: Gary Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies; Joseph Siry, Kenan Professor of the Humanities; and Sonia Sultan, Professor of Biology.

Three Wesleyan faculty were honored with the Wesleyan Prize for Excellence in Research on Sept. 4. The inaugural prize, presented by Joyce Jacobsen, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, is similar to the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching, but is presented to members of the faculty who demonstrate the highest standards of excellence in their research, scholarship, and contributions to their field.

Each recipient received a plaque and citation as well as research funds for their award. Nominations by faculty colleagues for this new prize will be accepted through the end of April each spring, and the prize will be awarded at the first faculty meeting the following fall.

The 2018 award recipients include Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies; Joseph Siry, the Kenan Professor of the Humanities; and Sonia Sultan, professor of biology. Their award citations are below:

Eck ’19 Helping City of Middletown Earn Sustainability Certification

Ingrid Eck ’19, pictured here in the West College Courtyard on Sept. 12, is working to certify the City of Middletown by Sustainable CT. Sustainable CT recognizes thriving and resilient Connecticut municipalities. An independently funded, grassroots, municipal effort, Sustainable CT provides a wide-ranging menu of best practices. Municipalities choose Sustainable CT actions, implement them, and earn points toward certification. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Since arriving on campus freshman year, Ingrid Eck ’19 has fully immersed herself in all Wesleyan has to offer: working on the Wesleyan Green Fund; founding Veg Out, a student group dedicated to food justice; and joining—and currently serving as president of—Wesleyan’s only sorority, Rho Epsilon Pi. She is also working toward not one, but three majors: government, environmental studies, and French studies. More recently, she’s felt a desire to get involved in the broader Middletown community and “truly get to know the city in which I have been living.”

This summer, Eck had a unique opportunity to become intimately familiar with the City of Middletown as she prepared and submitted the city’s application to Sustainable CT for certification.

According to Jen Kleindienst, Wesleyan’s sustainability director (for whom Eck interns), the Sustainable CT certification is similar to the STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) sustainability rating for colleges and universities. Wesleyan received a silver rating by STARS, a program of The Association of the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, in 2013, and was re-certified in 2016. Like STARS, Sustainable CT encourages municipalities to become more sustainable in many different realms—such as environmental, social, and economic.

New Assistant Professor May ’05 Researches Suicide Risk and Prevention

Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May

Alexis May ’05

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May ’05, who joined the Department of Psychology this fall. May will be among the speakers at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns on Sept. 14–15.

Q: Welcome (back) to Wesleyan, Professor May! You earned your BA from Wesleyan in psychology and neuroscience and behavior in 2005. Please tell us about your journey since then.

A: After gaining substantial clinical research experience in the psychology department as a project coordinator for [Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita] Ruth Striegel Weismann, I was sure of my passion for clinical science but wasn’t sure how I wanted to pursue that professionally. I took the opportunity presented by this uncertainty to move cross-country to Santa Cruz, Calif., and work some “random” jobs. I landed in a position coordinating a suicide prevention crisis line. I loved the work but was frustrated by how little empirical knowledge there was about suicide prevention. This prompted my decision to return to school to pursue a degree in clinical psychology with a focus on suicide research. I completed my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of British Columbia, my clinical internship at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and my postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. Throughout my positions I’ve maintained my focus on understanding the phenomena of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the service of improving prevention and intervention efforts. Suicide is a devastating, complex, and unsolved problem. I feel very fortunate I get to spend my time working towards better solutions.

Q: How is it being back as a faculty member? Has Wesleyan changed much since your time as a student?

A: I was excited to see how much the psychology department has grown and diversified. I was also thrilled to learn about the addition of the Quantitative Analysis Center—it is a huge resource to both students and faculty. Overall, the students seem as skilled, passionate, and creative as ever!

More than 20 Bands, Musicians Perform during The MASH

Inspired by Fête de la Musique (also known as Make Music Day or World Music Day), the seventh annual The MASH festival on Sept. 8 highlighted Wesleyan’s student music scene, with multiple stages on campus featuring everything from a cappella ensembles and soloists to student and faculty bands. The name “MASH” is derived from the idea of a mash-up, since the festival features a mixture of different styles, genres, and musical expressions.

Stages were set up near Foss Hill, Olin Library, and North College. Performers included Baby Jeremy, Beach Juice, Rebecca Roff, Slavei, FieldFare, Jack Canavan-Gosselin, Myles Johnson, Quasimodal, Philippe Bungabong, Lila Lifton, Elias Normal, Cypher, BLOOMSBURY, Iris Sackman, SOUP, Basukes, Mattabesset String Collective, Timmy Turnhim, DJ Shaga, Pinroll, and Powered By 2 DJs. Other musicians performed during open mic opportunities.

The MASH is co-sponsored by the Center for the Arts and the Office of Student Affairs. Photos of The MASH are below: (Photos by Claudia Ferrara ’21)

Jack Canavan Gosselin (Olin)

Jack Canavan-Gosselin ’22 performed solo on the Olin Library stage. He sings and plays the piano and trombone.

Ponsavady’s New Book Examines the Development of French Transportation Systems

Stéphanie Ponsavady, assistant professor of French, is the author of a new book titled Cultural and Literary Representations of the Automobile in French Indochina: A Colonial Roadshow, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018.

In the book, Ponsavady aims to answer the question: How are the pleasures and thrills of the automobile linked to France’s history of conquest, colonialism, and exploitation in Southeast Asia?

Ponsavady addresses the contradictions of the “progress” of French colonialism and their consequences through the lens of the automobile. She examines the development of transportation systems in French Indochina at the turn of the 20th century, analyzing archival material and French and Vietnamese literature to critically assess French colonialism.

Ospina’s Fiction Nominated for Prestigious Spanish American Short Story Award

A book written by María Ospina, assistant professor of Spanish and assistant professor, Latin American studies, was recently nominated for the Gabriel García Márquez Spanish American Short Story Award.

The prize is awarded annually by the National Library of Colombia and the Colombian Ministry of Culture to a short story collection in Spanish that has been published the year before by authors from the Spanish-speaking world (Spain and Latin America). This year, the jury selected 14 titles from 127 submissions.

This award is considered the most important prize in the short story genre in the world of Hispanic letters and honors the life and work of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. The prize, which will be delivered in Bogota at the beginning of November, is endowed with $100,000 for the winner and $2,000 for each of the four finalists.

Ospina’s book, Azares del Cuerpo (Fates of the Body), was published by Laguna Libros in 2017. Like migratory animals, the female protagonists in this collection of short stories are travelers in search of new homes, hosts, and bonds of friendship and intimacy. Through the interrelated stories of women of diverse ages and origins who migrate to and from Bogotá, Ospina investigates the relationship between desire and the corporeality of the female body, and examines a multiplicity of modes of care and kinship outside of the bonds of family and heterosexual love. These stories about the limits of hospitality and the longing to cure one’s wounds by attempting to save other people also investigate the subtle ways in which broader histories of violence and migration shape people’s lives psychically and materially.

 

Tucker, Middlebrook ’20 Study the History of U.K. Alkali Workers

Mariel Middlebrook ’20 hunts for articles on the alkali industry at the British Library. As a recipient of a Student-Faculty Research Internship, Middlebrook assisted Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker this summer and searched for material in the Widnes Daily News from the 1850s.

This summer, Mariel Middlebrook ’20 gathered archival material on 19th-century alkali workers in London through a Wesleyan Student-Faculty Research Internship.

The Student-Faculty Internship program provides students with paid opportunities to work on research projects in collaboration with Wesleyan faculty.

As a recipient of the internship award, Middlebrook was able to work alongside Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, who is collecting information on Widnes, an industrial town in Halton, Cheshire, Northwest England, that is known for being the birthplace of Britain’s chemical industry in the late 1840s. (Tucker’s article, “It’s No Downton Abbey, but It’s Just as Much a Part of English History” was published by the History News Network in June and highlights her current study on Widnes.)

“We examined local newspapers from the region to find out more about the lives of alkali workers. Newspapers from the late 19th century are a rich source of information about work-related injuries and deaths, the changing market for chemical products, and attempts by chemical workers to improve labor conditions,” Tucker said.

Middlebrook, an anthropology and Spanish literature double major, took Tucker’s Photography and the Law class during the spring 2018 semester and previously assisted with Tucker’s research on the relationship between guns and photography in the 1860s.

Sultan, Baker ’18, Berg ’16 Coauthor Paper on Plant Development

Sonia Sultan, professor of biology and professor, environmental studies, and her former students Brennan Baker BA/MA ’18 and Lars Berg ’16 are the coauthors of a paper published in the August 2018 issue of Frontiers in Plant Science.

The study, “Context-Dependent Developmental Effects of Parental Shade Versus Sun Are Mediated by DNA Methylation,” presents work that Baker completed as a BA/MA student in 2017–18. The article is part of a special Frontiers theme on the emerging area of ecological epigenetics.

In this study, the coauthors compared the development of individual plants when their parents were grown in shade or in full sun. The results show that genetically identical seedlings developed very differently just as a result of this difference in parental conditions.

Baker followed up this finding in several ways, including showing that this ‘neo-Lamarckian’ effect on development was conveyed from parents to offspring through epigenetic regulatory changes to DNA expression rather than changes in the genes themselves.

“Learning how environmental effects in the parent generation can influence offspring via these epigenetic mechanisms is one of the most astonishing and important new areas in biology since it challenges the long-held view that only DNA sequence information could be inherited,” Sultan explained.

Baker will be pursuing his work on transgenerational environmental effects in a different biological context. This fall, he is starting an environmental health PhD program at Columbia University, where he plans to study inherited effects of environmental contaminants on human health. Since graduating from Wesleyan, Berg has held a competitive NIH research internship and is planning to go on to medical school.

In addition, a paper by Baker, Sultan, Maya Lopez-Ichikawa ’18, and Robin Waterman ’19 was an invited submission for a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that is dedicated to adaptive responses to rapid environmental change. The paper is currently under review for publication.

Basinger Appointed Special Advisor to the President

Jeanine Basinger

On Sept. 1, Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 appointed Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, to the position of Special Advisor to the President.

As she prepares to retire from Wesleyan, Basinger will work closely with President Roth on matters relating to Wesleyan Film–cultivating partnerships with organizations like the American Film Institute; conducting master classes and workshops; and supporting fundraising for the expansion of the Center for Film Studies.

Though Basinger is stepping away from full-time teaching, she will continue her service to the Ogden and Mary Louise Reid Cinema Archives and offer support to Scott Higgins, the Charles W. Fries Professor of Film Studies and the continuing director of the College of Film and the Moving Image.

“In her time at Wesleyan, Jeanine founded and built one of the most admired film programs in the world,” wrote President Roth in an all-campus email. “She will now devote her time to helping me secure the future of her legacy.”

Wesleyan’s Natural History Collection and Curiosities Featured in Usdan

The exhibit "Shelving the History of Life" will be featured inside the display cases in Usdan Universiy Center throughout the fall semester. The true-to-scale exhibit showcases specimens curated, restored, prepared, and documented from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, the former Wesleyan Museum, and other collections on campus.

The exhibit “Shelving the History of Life” will be featured in the display case in Usdan University Center until fall recess. The exhibit showcases specimens curated, restored, and documented from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, the former Wesleyan Museum, and other collections on campus.

In 1870, Orange Judd bequeathed Wesleyan $100,000 to build Judd Hall, which was designed as a building for the study of natural sciences. Included with this building was the Wesleyan Museum, which housed a prominent natural history collection containing over 300,000 specimens.

In 1957, the museum was closed and specimens were donated to other museums, put into storage in various places on campus, or “temporarily” loaned to local schools. In 1970, before the current museum reopened in Exley, the collection stored in the tunnels under Foss Hill was found to have been severely vandalized, with many specimens lost, stolen, or irreparably damaged.

Within the last two years, several Wesleyan faculty, students, and staff have exhumed thousands of these misplaced artifacts and are working to bring them back for public viewing. A new exhibit in Usdan, “Shelving the History of Life,” showcases many of these once-lost, and now found, relics of Wesleyan’s natural history collections.

“This exhibit is a showcase of the spectrum of natural history objects remaining in our collections, including taxidermy specimens, a wide range of wet specimens preserved in alcohol, skeletons, seashells, fossils, and minerals,” explained Andy Tan ’21, who is one of the cocurators of the exhibit.

Students Go “ON DISPLAY” During Common Moment

New Student Orientation for the Class of 2022 concluded Aug. 31 with the annual Common Moment, an event where members of the incoming class are brought together through music and performance.

This year, the students worked with choreographer Heidi Latsky to create her installation ON DISPLAY, a performance art investigation of the body and the gaze. In a large-scale, participatory version of Latsky’s touring work, the first-year students performed the roles of both seer and seen on Andrus Field and discussed their personal experiences of these roles. Students were challenged to commit to the exercise without judgment, to trust both their individuality and the group, and to experience profoundly the act of seeing and being seen.

The Common Moment’s theme is tied to Wesleyan’s First Year Matters program, through which first-year students are collectively reading A Body Undone by Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies. ON DISPLAY relates not only to Crosby’s narrative about body and ability but also to the near-universal process of constructing/curating a self-image for the gaze of social media.

The event was cosponsored by the Center for the Arts, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and Office of Student Affairs.

View photos of the Common Moment below: (Photos by Sandy Aldieri)