All News

Aksamija Helps Porticos of Bologna be Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Porticos in Piazza Santo Stefano

Porticos in Piazza Santo Stefano. (Photo by Francesco Ceccarelli)

Associate Professor of Art History Nadja Aksamija got her first glimpse of Bologna, Italy back in 2004 as she walked from the train station towards the historic city center. It was a hot day and she dragged her suitcase down the sidewalk. 

Crossing Piazza Maggiore, Aksamija stepped into the shade of Palazzo dei Banchi, experiencing for the first time the city’s breathtaking porticos – extensions from the upper levels of structures that create about 37 miles of covered walkways alongside city streets. 

“I remember thinking that this was incredible,” Aksamija said. “It felt like a changing landscape.”

While the porticos create surface uniformity to the streetscape, closer examination reveals a constantly shifting environment. The gorgeous columns vary as you walk underneath. The light changes. The floor heights shift. Life teems underneath the porticos, with shops, cafes and bars, and live music giving the space character and dimension. Aksamija thought it was a fascinating hybrid between a city square and someone’s living room.

WILD Wes Continues Summer Work on Permaculture Site

wild wes

The student group WILD Wes was a 2021 recipient of a Jewett Center for Community Partnerships Student Innovation Fund award. These awards support community engagement projects with grants up to $750 each. For 11 years, WILD Wes has been maintaining the West College Courtyard permaculture site.

For more than a decade, the student group WILD Wes (Working for Intelligent Landscape Design at Wesleyan University) has worked to transform a .75 acre of sloping, sandy land into a thriving permaculture site.

Located inside the West College Courtyard, the garden boasts a biodiverse natural ecosystem with plants that are beneficial to humans and wildlife. Birds, bees, butterflies (and humans) enjoy the plethora of seasonal produce: blackberries, blueberries, pears, apples, corn, currants, and more. Seasonal flowers, from beebalm to woodland sunflowers, provide insects with nectar-rich meals, and grassy native groundcovers spread to absorb heavy rain and eliminate the need for mowing and fertilizers.

WILD Wes members began working on the courtyard in 2010 and planted their first trees and perennial rain garden two years later. This summer, students laid a paver pathway and encourage passers-by to take a stroll through the site.

The project is supported by the Wesleyan Green Fund, the College of the Environment, Physical Plant, the SAGES-Green Building Subcommittee, the Sustainability Office, and other partners.

View past stories about WILD Wes’s efforts here. Photos of the West College Courtyard in July and August are below:

wild wes

wild wes wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

wild wes

Forklift’s LaMotte ’18 Discusses Upcoming WesWorks Performance

On Oct. 14, Forklift Danceworks will present WesWorks, a performance that celebrates the skilled movement and tells the often unheard stories of the people whose work sustains the daily lives of the Wesleyan campus.

Gretchen LaMotte '18

Gretchen LaMotte ’18

In this Q&A we speak with Gretchen LaMotte ’18, choreographer and programs manager for Forklift Danceworks. At Wesleyan, LaMotte majored in science in society while working for the Center for the Arts’ Creative Campus Initiative, Zilkha Gallery, and the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance.

Q: Hi Gretchen! In October, Forklift will host the performance of “WesWorks,” featuring members of Wesleyan’s Physical Plant staff and campus custodians. Can you describe the process and the goal?

GL: “WesWorks” is about honoring, celebrating, and supporting the people whose work sustains campus life. The core of the process is relationship-building, which we do by spending time with partnering employees on the job, working alongside them as much as possible, and interviewing them about their work. Because we’re visitors to campus, we’re working to support students to be part of that process, and we’re lucky to be building on seven years of work between Physical Plant, students, and Forklift.

Scientific Images of Nanoparticles, Colliding Stars, Learned Words Win Annual Contest

We had 13 submissions this year.

Thirteen students, majoring in chemistry, physics, astronomy, molecular biology and biochemistry, biology, neuroscience and behavior, psychology, and quantitative analysis submitted images for the 2021 Scientific Imaging Contest.

At first glance, a viewer sees a single image of pink-tinted cubes, resembling a bacteria culture from high school biology.

But upon closer examination, the viewer begins to see a series of other shapes—triangles to hexahedrons to tetahexahedraons (cubes with four-sided pyramids on each face).

“If you stare at this image for a while, you can see that it’s actually a series of five images in the top row, and five images on the bottom row, and each of these images show us nanoparticles that are made of gold and copper,” said Brian Northrop, professor of chemistry. “It’s intriguing, captivating, and visually very interesting.”

The image, which depicts bimetallic gold-copper (Au-Cu) nanoparticles synthesized with varying concentrations and amounts of sodium iodide, was created by Jessica Luu ’24 using a scanning electron microscope. It also was the first place winner in Wesleyan’s 2021 Scientific Imaging Contest.

Jessica Luu

Jessica Luu ’24 took first place with a series of 10 images of bimetallic gold-copper (Au-Cu) nanoparticles synthesized with varying concentrations and amounts of sodium iodide. They were imaged using a scanning electron microscope (SEM).

The annual contest, spearheaded by Wesleyan’s College of Integrative Sciences, encourages students to submit images and descriptions of the research that they’ve been conducting over the summer.

Liu Explores Racial Equity in School Funding as NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow

Roseann Liu

Roseann Liu

While teaching in New York City public and charter schools that served low-income, students of color, Roseann Liu and her fellow educators would frequently purchase basic resources such as paper, books, and classroom manipulatives for their students out of their own pockets. Students learned from outdated textbooks and teachers hungered for professional development opportunities.

Teachers and parents alike understood these conditions as the norm.

“Having less became natural,” said Liu, assistant professor of education studies. “Most students, parents, and teachers were unaware of how sharp the disparities were between underfunded and well-funded schools.”

As a newly-selected National Academy of Education (NAEd)/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, Liu is exploring the topic of racial equity in school funding through an ethnographic book project, tentatively titled “Designed to Fail.” She’s among only 25 fellows selected for the $70,000 fellowship from a competitive pool of 249 scholars of education.

“‘Why is racial equity in school funding so hard to achieve?’ That’s what I hope to answer,” Liu said.

For “Designed to Fail,” Liu is focusing her study specifically on the State of Pennsylvania, which has one of the widest gaps in the country between educational opportunities for white students and students of color. In a recent study by the Education Law Center, Pennsylvania was cited for providing school districts with the most white students $10,175 in state aid, whereas districts with the least white students received only $7,270—or $2,904 less per student.

While some scholars have already focused on finding the best models for school funding (for example, using performance-based systems), few studies have focused on the actions of school funding influencers— such as lawmakers, advocates, and lawyers—including the strategies they deploy to change school funding systems and the impact of their work.

Padilla-Benavides Explores How Copper Affects Human Disease in FASEB Journal

Teresita Padilla-Benavides

Teresita Padilla-Benavides

A new paper co-authored by Teresita Padilla-Benavides, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is published in the July 2021 issue of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal.

Titled “The molecular and cellular basis of copper dysregulation and its relationship with human pathologies,” the paper explores the role of copper in human disease.

Copper (Cu) is an essential micronutrient involved in critical metabolic reactions and biological functions. In humans, mutations or malfunctions of genes that regulate copper stability in the body may lead to numerous pathologic conditions, severe neurodegenerative conditions, or metabolic diseases.

Copper also plays role in cancer treatment as a component of drugs and a regulator of drug sensitivity and uptake. In this review, Padilla-Benavides and her colleagues provide an overview of the current knowledge of copper metabolism and transport and its relation to various human pathologies.

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 in the News

NewsWesleyan’s intellectually dynamic faculty, students, alumni, staff, and parents frequently serve as expert sources for national media. Others are noted for recent achievements and accolades. A sampling of recent media hits is below:

In The Washington Post, William Griffin Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen is quoted in a story about neutering. In her early career, Gruen, who specializes in animal ethics, worked in shelters where she witnessed “perfectly healthy dogs destroyed” and the toll it took on employees. “The overpopulation issue sounds abstract,” she said. “But these are dogs whose lives end and the people who have to bring those dogs’ lives to an end often can’t get certain dogs out of their minds.” (Aug. 5)

In The Hartford Courant, Jhanelle Oneika Thomas ’18, MA ’19 and Royette Dubar, assistant professor of psychology, are featured for their investigation of the motivation and psychological impact of ghosting in the age of social media and hypervisibility. “From the ghoster’s perspective, choosing to ghost was a little bit nicer than a more blatant rejection approach,” Dubar said. ”Individuals may choose to ghost out of concern for the ghostee—that is, to shield them from hurt feelings.” (Aug. 8)

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 reviews Charles King’s Gods of the Upper Air in Los Angeles Review of Books. Gods of the Upper Air explores the career of Frank Boas, “the father of 20th-century anthropology” in America. “Gods of the Upper Air is gracefully written, and it succeeds beautifully both as intellectual history and group biography,” Roth writes in the review. (Aug. 13)

Wesleyan University’s Center for Film Studies is mentioned in The Hollywood Reporter for being one of 2021’s top 25 American film schools. The article states “in keeping with this institution’s liberal arts identity, its film curriculum is focused on formal analysis and theory. And what it doesn’t provide in production experience, it makes up for in strong industry connections, with a network that includes 2006 grad and Nomadland producer Dan Janvey [’06].” (Aug. 13)

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.

“You Just Have to Read This. . .” Books by Wesleyan Authors Globus ’05, Isler ’01, and Pallant ’80

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Northampton, Mass., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Doro Globus ’05, Making a Great Exhibition (David Zwirner Books, 2021)

In this charming and colorful picture book, author Doro Globus ’05 and illustrator Rose Blake collaborate to introduce the art world to children, delving into the lives of everyone from painters and sculptors to art handlers and museum curators. The story is well-attuned to the diversity of artists and their art, showcasing a variety of mediums and styles and paying great attention to the people in the art world who work behind the scenes, like communications managers and museum guards. As all successful children’s book authors must be, Globus and Blake are adept at diving into the minds of children and answering the questions their young minds might ask about the art world.

Replete with friendly characters (like sculptor Viola and curator Cliff) and eye-catching illustrations, the book is the perfect introduction for any young folks interested in the inner workings of any part of artistic production or display, and as a bonus, is equally fascinating for adults!

Doro Globus ’05 is a children’s book author and managing director of David Zwirner Books, a publishing house that focuses on publishing high-quality art publications. She has worked in arts publishing for over 15 years and edited a number of notable books.

Emily Barth Isler ’01, After/Math (Lerner, 2021)

In her touching middle grade debut, Emily Barth Isler ’01 manages to tackle heavy topics with grace and nuance, while still being in touch with the younger minds of her intended audience. The novel tells the story of 12-year-old Lucy, who has just moved to Queensland, Virginia, from Kenton, Maryland. While any move can be harrowing, this one presents even more challenges for the precocious, math-loving narrator Lucy: her younger brother Theo recently died after suffering from a heart defect, and the town to which she is moving underwent a tragic shooting a few years before. As Lucy struggles through the tough transition—juggling her own grief with the grief of her new classmates and community—she turns to math, her favorite subject, for solace, comforted by its reliability and unchangeability.

Despite the gravity of the topics at hand, Isler manages to create a story that is ultimately enveloped in hope and love. For younger readers hoping to make sense of some of the darker sides of the world, it is a deftly handled and optimistic portrait of what it might mean to find comfort and courage in the midst of tragedy.

Emily Barth Isler is a children’s lit writer and a beauty and wellness editor. A former child actress, she has written award-winning episodic television for the web and several personal essays. After/Math is her debut middle grade novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Eric Pallant ’80, Sourdough Culture (Agate, 2021)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the process of making bread has become a regular source of comfort in many people’s lives. Many an Instagram post has proudly displayed a gorgeous loaf of sourdough, proclaiming baking bread as “life-saving.” But the culture of bread-making—and its link to human survival—is nothing new, as Eric Pallant points out in his new book, Sourdough Culture. In fact, sourdough—its origins, science, and flavor—go back hundreds of thousands of years, even when humans were primarily hunting and gathering as their main source of nutrition.

Pallant’s book is an impressive interdisciplinary study that draws upon the fields of history, archaeology, anthropology, chemistry and more, investigating the origins and science of baking sourdough, how it has changed over time, and its prevalence in our world today. Pallant even weaves in a few bread recipes. At the end of the book, Pallant sums up his project best: “Making good bread is a delicate balance of experimentation, scientific understanding, artistry, and history. The joy comes in eating the results.”

Eric Pallant is a professor of environmental science and the chair of the Environmental Science & Sustainability department at Allegheny College. A passionate amateur baker, he lives in Meadville, Pennsylvania with his family.

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.”